Drones are a critical part of the federal government’s response to oil spills, especially in Alaska where shipping disasters have left wildlife covered in contaminants for years after. The unmanned aerial vehicles can track the spread of hazardous chemicals and also observe the creatures living close to the spill without forcing human researchers to approach cold ocean water and ice. But drones can be obtrusive, especially to birds that might find the flying machines threatening, so researchers at the Interior Department are investigating the shapes, sizes, colors, noise-levels and flying altitudes of drones that are least likely to disrupt certain species of birds. » Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox.
Sign up here.Specifically, Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service wants a contractor to provide drones for a week-long test observing waterfowl and their response to the unmanned vehicles. For example, the Spectacled and the Stellar’s Eider sea ducks, both considered endangered, are common in nearshore parts of Western Alaska that are at increased risk of oil spills. It’s too expensive to study these birds in their molting habitat off the shore, but Interior hopes to observe similar birds in accessible parts of inland Alaska during the pilot.