Future Tense

The Dutch Have Devised the Best Drone Defense System: Trained Eagles

The future of drone warfare.

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

There are many ways to stop an errant or hostile drone from venturing over forbidden territory—more and more methods every month, it seems. “Shooting it down with a shotgun” is a popular method, but also unimaginative, and generally illegal. In October, I wrote about the DroneDefender, a futuristic rifle-shaped device that uses directed radio waves to force wandering drones to the ground. In January, a professor at Michigan Technological University announced a drone taker-downer that was basically just another drone equipped with a big net. Now, there’s a new method for repelling unwanted drones, and that method is a trained eagle.

Jamie Condliffe at Gizmodo reports that the Netherlands National Police have hit on the honestly brilliant idea of training eagles to identify errant drones and pluck them out of the air as if they were prey. That’s the long and short of it. You should basically just watch the video here to get a sense of how this would work under ideal circumstances:

The apparent ease with which eagles can be trained to swoop up and snatch consumer electronics out of midair is mildly alarming. If I were a mugger, I would acquire one of these eagles and send that sucker out to grab as many iPhones as possible. The point is, there’s a fighting-fire-with-fire mentality that seems to demand that we meet technological problems with technological solutions, but sometimes the simplest solutions can be just as good. (Not that training an eagle to attack a drone is simple, per se, but it’s simpler than building a futuristic radio-rifle or having to constantly stuff and restuff a damn net inside a second drone.)

Obviously there’s a huge difference between training an eagle to successfully grab a drone in controlled circumstances in a giant warehouse and having it do so out in the real world. But regardless of whether the eagle program is effective as a drone repellent, I suspect that it might pay unexpected benefits as a drone deterrent. I, for one, would think twice about operating my own drone recklessly if I knew there was a chance that it might be snatched from the skies by a bird of prey and carried back to some remote aerie, never to be seen again. So maybe the publicity around a campaign like this is just as important—or more so—than the actual efficacy of the program itself. And maybe American officials should be considering similar attention-grabbing methods. We’ve got the eagles!

This article is part of a Future Tense series on the future of drones and is part of a larger project, supported by a grant from Omidyar Network and Humanity United, that includes a drone primer from New America.