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Next-generation drones, built to track and hunt other drones, might be designed using hunting principles used by one of nature’s most capable predators. Researchers at Oxford University have discovered that peregrine falcons steer their attacks using the same control strategies as guided missiles.

The research results could be applied to the design of small, visually guided drones that can take down other ‘rogue’ drones in settings such as airports or prisons. Recent publicity has revealed the growing problem of drones flying drugs and mobile phones into prisons, and of drones being flown in the vicinity of airports.

The research was initially funded by the US Air Force Research Laboratory and published open access in the journal PNAS. reports that the researchers used miniature GPS receivers to track peregrines attacking dummy targets thrown by a falconer or towed by a drone and were able to apply a mathematical simulation to these movements describing the dynamics of the guidance system used in intercepting the dummy prey.

The researchers collected on-board video giving a falcon’s-eye view of the attacks and used this to back up their conclusions. Remarkably, they found that the terminal attack trajectories of peregrines follow the same law – known as proportional navigation (PN) – used by visually guided missiles, but with a tuning appropriate to their lower flight speed. This method does not require any information on a target’s speed or distance, instead relying simply on information about the rotation of the attacker’s line of sight to the target.

The researchers conclude that proportional navigation guidance optimised for low flight speeds could find use in small, visually guided drones designed to remove other drones from protected airspace.