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These shrieking robotic scarecrows protect offshore wind farms from seagull poop

Scaretech might sound like the latest Blumhouse horror movie, but its concept of screaming robot scarecrows is not only real but, if creator Terry Christie is correct, on the verge of becoming a gigantic hit. “It’s going to be massive,” Christie, founder and managing director of a company called Scaretech, told Digital Trends. “This is going to be huge. It’s a game-changer. This is a world-wild problem [that we’re helping to solve.]”

That problem, in a word, is poop. Seagull poop. While most land-based people might dismiss such a thing as a trivial annoyance, for those who work out at sea, on locations like offshore wind substations, it’s significantly worse than that. Guano is an extremely unpleasant, carcinogenic, substance that takes on a dust-like property when it’s disturbed. Offshore rigs are frequently covered in guano, which makes them hazardous for those working on them.

“It gets into your airways and starts depleting your immune system,” Christie explained. “The risks are absolutely [terrible] — plus it smells and is very acidic. It can actually start to burn through materials like rubber and plastic.”

Christie’s Scaretech scarecrows are an update on the centuries-old scarecrow model. It’s a solar-powered bird-deterrent robot setup designed to look like a person in a high-visibility jacket. If seagulls approach it, the bot will identify them using onboard sensors and then blast them with high-intensity strobe lights and a sustained chorus of angry coastal seabird sounds. The terrifying (to seagulls) result is enough to cause them to steer clear of what they might otherwise view as a novel public toilet site.


Scaring the poop out of seagulls. Kind of

“Imagine you’ve got this thing that looks human, that’s moving its arms and legs, firing out strobe lights and emitting this high-pitched bird alarm,” Christie said. “The whole thing combined just works absolutely brilliantly.”

Scaretech’s robot scarecrow just completed a 12-month test on a substation in the U.K.’s North Sea, which concluded last month. During that time, the guano coverage on the site (the amount of space pooped on) decreased dramatically from around 55% to virtually nothing.

As Christie noted, a one-year trial is significant not just because it shows that the technology works, but also because it shows that it works beyond the time that such anti-bird measures regularly do. “Everyone said to us the invention was great, ticked all the boxes, but they believed that, give it three or four months, and the birds would familiarize [and stop being scared,]” he said. This didn’t happen.

Scaretech is now looking to scale up its operations to offer a proven solution to others who need it. “I think the biggest problem we’re gonna have is supply and demand because the demand is going to be greater than what we can supply — at least at first,” Christie said. “I think eventually we’ll end up with our own factory rolling them out in mass production.”

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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