Ever greater numbers of drones are entering the airspace not just as tools of surveillance but as instruments of commerce and as playthings. This has led to an interesting moment. The airspace that drones occupy is far from empty; it is habitat. What lives there may be unwilling to cede its territory.
Australia, with its expansive terrain and favorable weather, is well appointed as a natural laboratory for commercial drone testing. But drone operators on this continent encounter a hazard that tracks their technology from above and descends on it with destructive intent: the wedge-tailed eagle, which has taken to skirmishing with drones. Videos captured from the drone’s-eye perspective have proved popular online—a subgenre of nature-fights-machine. Such footage inevitably ends in a flurry: talons ripping at the drone’s carbon-fiber frame, a whirling fall, then hard impact. In Western Australia’s goldfields, a single mining company reported that eagles had inflicted more than $70,000 worth of damage to its surveyor drones.
In the future, companies planning delivery networks of drones will need to factor in the risk of such hostilities.