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Drone Robot Team Is For The Birds

Think of it as mechanical birds helping their feathered friends.

To prevent bird strikes by whooping cranes and other migratory fowl, special drones tethered to robots will place colorful markers – bird flight diverters – on static overhead wires this spring.

“It’s part of our avian protection plan,” said Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative (MWEC) Civil Engineer Kyle Sorenson. “We are located in the Whooping Crane migratory path. These markers will reduce the probability of unintended bird collisions that at times can result in power outages.”

The markers were previously placed with much larger “mechanical birds.” A helicopter would hover over the lines while someone rides on the landing skis, or someone would hang below in a bosun’s chair and reach out to place the markers.

“This is the first time we’re installing bird diverters with a drone,” Sorenson said. “There’s two operators – one for the robot and another flies the drone.”

The drone sets the robot on the line, where it attaches the diverters at set distances. When the robot gets to a pole, the drone lifts it up and places it on the next section of line. Twelve diverters – black triangle wedges with yellow-and-white reflective tape – can be set before the robot needs reloading.

A total of 230 total miles will be marked within the next three years. Sorenson expects to continue using drone technology in the future.

“This new technology has proven to be the most efficient method for installing bird diverters,” he said. “It also saves the liability of having someone on a helicopter above the line – and safety is always our priority.” All while saving the many birds making their annual migration.

*Drone placing bird diverter on MWEC lines. Courtesy of Fulcrum Air