Alaska Department of Transportation program manager Ryan Marlow demonstrates the agency’s robotic dog in Anchorage on March 26. The device will be camouflaged as a coyote or fox to ward off migratory birds and other wildlife at Alaska’s second-largest airport, the DOT said. (Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News via AP)

Alaska Department of Transportation program manager Ryan Marlow demonstrates the agency’s robotic dog in Anchorage on March 26. The device will be camouflaged as a coyote or fox to ward off migratory birds and other wildlife at Alaska’s second-largest airport, the DOT said. (Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News via AP)

Robot disguised as a coyote or fox will scare wildlife away from runways at Alaska airport

A headless robot about the size of a labrador retriever will be camouflaged as a coyote or fox to ward off migratory birds and other wildlife at Alaska’s second largest airport, a state agency said.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has named the new robot Aurora and said it will be based at the Fairbanks airport to “enhance and augment safety and operations,” the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The transportation department released a video of the robot climbing rocks, going up stairs and doing something akin to dancing while flashing green lights.

Those dancing skills will be put to use this fall during the migratory bird season when Aurora imitates predator-like movements to keep birds and other wildlife from settling near plane infields.

The plan is to have Aurora patrol an outdoor area near the runway every hour in an attempt to prevent harmful encounters between planes and wildlife, said Ryan Marlow, a program manager with the transportation department.

The robot can be disguised as a coyote or a fox by changing out replaceable panels, he said.

“The sole purpose of this is to act as a predator and allow for us to invoke that response in wildlife without having to use other means,” Marlow told legislators last week.

The panels would not be hyper-realistic, and Marlow said the agency decided against using animal fur to make sure Aurora remained waterproof.

The idea of using a robot came after officials rejected a plan to use flying drones spraying a repellent including grape juice.

Previous other deterrent efforts have included officials releasing pigs at a lake near the Anchorage airport in the 1990s, with the hope they would eat waterfowl eggs near plane landing areas.

The test period in Fairbanks will also see how effective of a deterrent Aurora would be with larger animals and to see how moose and bears would respond to the robot, Marlow told the Anchorage newspaper.

Fairbanks “is leading the country with wildlife mitigation through the use of Aurora. Several airports across the country have implemented robots for various tasks such as cleaning, security patrols, and customer service,” agency spokesperson Danielle Tessen said in an email to The Associated Press.

In Alaska, wildlife service teams currently are used to scare birds and other wildlife away from runways with loud sounds, sometimes made with paintball guns.

Last year, there were 92 animal strikes near airports across Alaska, including 10 in Fairbanks, according to an Federal Aviation Administration database.

Most strikes resulted in no damage to the aircraft, but Marlow said the encounters can be expensive and dangerous in the rare instance when a bird is sucked into an engine, potentially causing a crash.

An AWACS jet crashed in 1995 when it hit a flock of geese, killing 24 people at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage.

If the test proves successful, Marlow said the agency could send similar robots to smaller airports in Alaska, which could be more cost effective than hiring human deterrent teams.

Aurora, which can be controlled from a table, computer or on an automated schedule, will always have a human handler with it, he said. It can navigate through rain or snow.

The robot from Boston Dynamics cost about $70,000 and was paid for with a federal grant.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 15

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Rep. Sara Hannan (right) offers an overview of this year’s legislative session to date as Rep. Andi Story and Sen. Jesse Kiehl listen during a town hall by Juneau’s delegation on Thursday evening at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Multitude of education issues, budget, PFD among top areas of focus at legislative town hall

Juneau’s three Democratic lawmakers reassert support of more school funding, ensuring LGBTQ+ rights.

Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, mayor of the Inupiaq village of Nuiqsut, at the area where a road to the Willow project will be built in the North Slope of Alaska, March 23, 2023. The Interior Department said it will not permit construction of a 211-mile road through the park, which a mining company wanted for access to copper deposits. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
Biden shields millions of acres of Alaskan wilderness from drilling and mining

The Biden administration expanded federal protections across millions of acres of Alaskan… Continue reading

Allison Gornik plays the lead role of Alice during a rehearsal Saturday of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland,” which will be staged at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé for three days starting Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
An ‘Alice in Wonderland’ that requires quick thinking on and off your feet

Ballet that Juneau Dance Theatre calls its most elaborate production ever opens Friday at JDHS.

Caribou cross through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in their 2012 spring migration. A 211-mile industrial road that the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority wants to build would pass through Gates of the Arctic and other areas used by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, one of the largest in North America. Supporters, including many Alaska political leaders, say the road would provide important economic benefits. Opponents say it would have unacceptable effects on the caribou. (Photo by Zak Richter/National Park Service)
Alaska’s U.S. senators say pending decisions on Ambler road and NPR-A are illegal

Expected decisions by Biden administration oppose mining road, support more North Slope protections.

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 13. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House members propose constitutional amendment to allow public money for private schools

After a court ruling that overturned a key part of Alaska’s education… Continue reading

Danielle Brubaker shops for homeschool materials at the IDEA Homeschool Curriculum Fair in Anchorage on Thursday. A court ruling struck down the part of Alaska law that allows correspondence school families to receive money for such purchases. (Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)
Lawmakers to wait on Alaska Supreme Court as families reel in wake of correspondence ruling

Cash allotments are ‘make or break’ for some families, others plan to limit spending.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, April 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Newly elected tribal leaders are sworn in during the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s 89th annual Tribal Assembly on Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Photo courtesy of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)
New council leaders, citizen of year, emerging leader elected at 89th Tribal Assembly

Tlingit and Haida President Chalyee Éesh Richard Peterson elected unopposed to sixth two-year term.

Most Read