High-wire robot tackles messy birds


By Will Knight A tight-rope walking robot could soon be used to scare away birds perched on overhead power cables. In many urban areas the droppings from birds perched on overhead wires pose a health hazard and can cause damage to property and vehicles by corroding paint work. The robot deterrent is called a Self-Sustained Induction Deferrer (SID). It is designed to crawl along overhead cables gathering power from the wire as it travels. SID was developed designed by Enda Young and Brendan Quinn at St Patrick’s College, Maghera in Northern Ireland in response to a severe local problem. Northern Electricity receives around forty complaints a month from local residents concerning bird droppings. “It’s a very big problem world-wide,” says Northern Electricity engineer Robert O’Connell. The company has tried plastic owls, flashing lights and even sirens but the birds quickly become accustomed to the disturbance. “The sirens scared local people more than the birds,” he told New Scientist. Powering these devices has also proved a problem. Batteries require frequent replacement and solar power does not work at night, when the birds are roosting. By contrast, SID is self sufficient as it takes its power by induction from the 11 kilovolt cable it is perched on. It does this by turning itself into a large split current transformer in combination with the power line. This mechanism not only provides energy for the red and yellow robot, but also powers stroboscopic lights and a rendition of the noise created by a flock of starlings. Finally, to try and prevent Sid becoming predictable, computer software randomises its movements. The robot is protected from power surges in the power line by a high power load resistor and high current polyswitch. A high temperature sensing circuit also protects the device from overheating and a low temperature sensor protects it from damage by ice on the wire. The invention has not yet been extensively tested and has yet to be proved to deter the birds over long periods and work in all weather conditions. But Northern Electricity will provide funding for further tests and will finance a production model, if testing goes well. The invention has won Young and Quinn the Young Engineers for Britain 2001 award,
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