Budgies show aviators how to dodge mid-air collisions

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Drone operators and airline pilots could learn a thing or two about how to avoid crashing into other aircraft from the ultimate masters of elusion – budgies.

Researchers from the University of Queensland conducted tests involving 10 birds making more than 100 flights towards one another along a tunnel. High-speed cameras recorded all the action and the results were staggering.

There were no mid-air collisions with the budgies always veering right to avoid a crash. The birds occasionally altered their altitude when flying head-on towards one another and researchers believe the height at which they travel could denote hierarchy within the group.

“As air traffic becomes increasingly busy, there is a pressing need for robust automatic systems for manned and unmanned aircraft, so there are real lessons to be learned from nature,” said Professor Mandyam Srinivasan of the Queensland Brain Institute.

“Birds must have been under strong evolutionary pressure to establish basic rules and strategies to minimize the risk of collision in advance,” said Srinivasan. “Our modelling has shown that birds always veer right - and sometimes they change their altitude as well, according to some pre-set preference.”

Researchers believe this means there are “simple rules by which collisions can be avoided in head-on encounters by two agents, be they animals or machines. The findings are potentially applicable to the design of guidance algorithms for automated collision avoidance on aircraft.”

Srinivasan is particularly confident that the results of the research will have a practical benefit in the skies.

“While we can’t say how birds solve the problem of switching to different altitudes, we can propose some simple strategies for autopilot systems and unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent head-on collisions,” he says.

Over the last number of years there have been hundreds of reported incidents of near misses between commercial aircraft and drones causing significant delays and flight disruption at international airports.