Matching wits with what is arguably the smartest bird-brain on the planet is a grand challenge and has driven much of the work that Hardshell Labs has done over the past eight years. We work with emerging technology to achieve low cost, non-lethal methods of driving ravens and crows from places they want to be but where we humans don’t want them. And nowhere, perhaps, is this clash more obvious than in pistachio orchards across the Southwest.
Pistachios are valuable nuts and ravens find them every bit as delicious and nutritious as we do. When the nuts ripen in late summer ravens pour into orchards to snack on the plentiful fruit, and, incidentally, but not trivially, also attack the exposed irrigation hoses strung along the rows of trees. Unfortunately, ravens are very good at habituating to most attempts to chase them out of orchards. They get used to, and then largely ignore noisemakers and pyrotechnics and even the occasional shotgunning of one of their colleagues. Fortunately, they hate laser light and do not easily habituate to it. Indeed, with long-term exposure the birds can become even more sensitive over time. Whether this sensitivity is magic or happenstance it is certainly a happy accident and an opportunity to provide a service to help protect growers’ precious harvests.
Hardshell is heading back into pistachio orchards this summer and fall with advanced laser modules equipped with artificially intelligent “image-object recognition,” and capable of being controlled remotely. We will deploy these full time, smart robots to stand sentry duty over pistachios as another step toward low cost, highly effective raven repulsion from high value locations. This will include agricultural sites, landfills and composting facilities, the habitat of threatened species victimized by ravens and the vicinities of airports to reduce bird-aircraft strike hazards. Ravens, those pistachio snacking, irrigation hose puncturing, laser sensitive feathered geniuses, will not be pleased to see our return. The battle continues.