Ten UAVs have been lost since South Africa's Gold Fields, the world's seventh-biggest gold producer, began operating the Trimble UX5 systems at its St Ives operations near Kambalda. One crashed as a result of human error, while nine have been taken down by wedge-tailed eagles, which are known to have wingspans more than twice that of the 1-metre-wide UAVs. The UAVs are constructed from foam and carbon fibre, and fly at an altitude of about 125 metres, reaching speeds of up to 92km/h. Razor-sharp talons have turned the wedge-tailed eagles into what St Ives Mine surveyor Rick Steven calls "the natural enemy of the UAV"
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In Australia, nature fights back. When a mining company started flying surveillance drones at the St. Ives gold mine, they unwittingly offended previous residents of that airspace: the fearsome wedge-tailed eagles. These eagles, which have 7-foot wingspans and razor-sharp claws, easily dispatched 9 of the 12 unmanned aerial vehicles. "They're big birds," says mining surveyor Rick Steven, and they are his "single biggest problem". What must the wedge-tailed eagle think when she sees a drone? She probably wonders why such a tiny, clumsy invader is trespassing into her territory. As the eagle approaches, wings raised in aggressive challenge, the defenseless intruder cannot even swerve to avoid her. It trundles along a path, senseless to her approach. "From what poor god does this creature spawn?' thinks the eagle. But nary a hint of pity flashes through her brain; she easily dispatches the fragile intruder. The drone crumples to the ground, rendered useless by her vicious talons and a precipitous drop. The eagle swoops off to resume her border patrol. Somewhere below, a mining engineer curses: $10,000 more down the drain.Miners once tried camouflaging a drone with an eagle disguise (an inexplicable choice, given that these eagles are extremely territorial). It "looked like an eagle," says Rick Steven, but it "couldn't fight back like an eagle." It was doomed to a swift downfall, like 8 of its fellow drones. The last few seconds of video taken by these drones show an eagle approaching at a rapid pace, raising its talons to attack. It is over in the blink of an eye.Wedge-tailed eagles have captured human imaginations for millennia, with their regal nature and gigantic size. They have been reported to attack hang-gliders and other presumed aerial invaders; they appear in rock art from 5000 years ago; and they were dubbed "Monarch of the Western Skies" in an Australian children's book.There is some poetic justice in the ease and efficiency with which the eagles destroyed these drones. We are busy pillaging the natural world in ever new and creative ways to uncover bits of pretty yellow metal, but the eagles don't care. All they know is that your puny drones are in their territory. The eagles are offended. And in Australia, you do not want to offend the eagles.______________________________________Thanks to proud Aussie Elliott Bannan for sending along this article!
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