Could owls teach us how to reduce propeller noise? Hoot knows…

Propellor noise

Researchers are looking – and listening – to determine whether there’s something about the feathers of owls that could potentially be used to make drones quieter. It’s pretty cool.

Most drones, unless they’re small, are noisy. That buzz of the propellers just won’t go away, which could spell problems when it comes to public acceptance of more widespread applications involving drone delivery in urban centers. Already, of course, there are companies like WING that are testing deliveries in cities. But the company discovered during trials in Australia that while some people love the convenience, others hate the noise. They just aren’t that enthused to hear the constant buzz as drones deliver in their hood. As a result, companies like WING are paying attention to prop noise, and seeing if it can somehow be mitigated.

Now, there are some pretty cool theories involving owls.


They’re looking at using a technique called biomimicry, where we learn from nature. Since evolution has given plants and animals vast periods of time to perfect themselves, it’s often worth looking to nature for examples that can be adapted to technology. In the 1987 America’s Cup of sailing, the hull of Dennis Connor’s Stars and Stripes was coated with a film that emulated sharkskin. The idea was for the boat to slip more smoothly through the water.

In a similar concept, researchers are wondering whether owls could help drones be more quiet.

Hoot, woot!

So, how much more quiet is an owl? Well, this older BBC video came to our attention courtesy of Popular Science. And you’ve got to hear it (or not hear it) to believe it:

Wow. Just wow…

Silence is golden

Amazon is one of several major companies looking at widespread drone delivery down the road. It is also exploring what can be done to make propellors more silent. We’ve also seen some photos that showed scalloped propellors that reduce noise. And, you might recall, DJI released low-noise propellers for its Mavic Pro.

Public acceptance of drones is a quirky thing: There’s little doubt people would put up with a bit of noise if they knew critical medications were being delivered to someone in need. But if that drone were just delivering two cappuccinos and a bagel? Well, probably not so much.

In other words, a much quieter drone is the Holy Grail of deliveries. It will be worth a lot of money to whoever gets it right first.

Actually, the owl already has this down pat. But they aren’t in the delivery business.

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