ROBIN: Radar Observation of Bird Intensity and Notification (1984 – 1996)
In 1984, the Laboratory for Electrotechnical Developments for the Armed Forces (LEOK) merges with the Physics and Electronics Laboratory TNO. At TNO The Hague, work continues on improved filter algorithms and on the system definition and design of the Radar Observation of Bird Intensity and Notification (ROBIN) system which will replace the operational KIEVIT system of the Air Force.
The development of the ROBIN system is made possible in part by the late ’70s technological developments in microelectronics. Increased memory capacity and powerful microprocessors, such as the Motorola 68000 with a much larger memory addressing range, making it possible to develop software that can process next to the radar the digitised radar reflections and can present and store the data remotely.
This new ROBIN system should make complete radar images available to the Air Force in The Hague. The images are collected and processed by ROBIN’s ‘recording part’ at Radar Post Noord (RP-N) located in Wier. The information is then transmitted via a data line to the ‘presentation part of ROBIN’ at the Air Force Headquarters in the Hague.
The remotely operated ROBIN system at RP-N should sample the radar screen in more or less detail, and recognise, measure and count the bird echoes. The operator has to be able to give a (long) series of information capturing instructions in advance, the results of which could be viewed later. This means that every morning the bird migration patterns of the previous night (and on Monday of the entire weekend) can be studied for further research into the filter algorithm and image processing. The system setup is analogous to what will later be called a client-server model. Mid 1989, the first ROBIN system is delivered to the Royal Netherlands Air Force to replace the old KIEVIT system.
The press reports that “ROBIN is a world-first system that can detect bird migration from radar signals“.
The first ROBIN system, later renamed ROBIN 1, demonstrates that it is possible that what the radar detects about bird migration can be made visible in a quick and precise fashion by electronic means.
More improvements: ROBIN 2, 3, 4 and NL-BAM
The Royal Netherlands Air Force is very pleased with the new ROBIN system. The formal ownership transfer the ROBIN system to the Royal Netherlands Air Force mid-1989 marks both an end state and a new start: a whole set of further improvement plans are envisioned. In 1997, TNO delivered an improved ROBIN system based on enhanced hardware and software: ROBIN 2.
In parallel, TNO-FEL develops the mobile ROBIN 3 system. That system is based on the mobile Flycatcher target tracking radar (which has a range of 15 km distance and 0o to 90o elevation). The computer system can control the radar without further intervention by radar operators and can execute pre-scripted commands at regular intervals.
Throughout 1999, the Royal Netherlands Air Force conducts specific bird migration research with ROBIN 3 for Rijkswaterstaat from the Zuidpier, IJmuiden. This provides insight into the bird density near the coast which is required to study the feasibility of an airport on an island off the coast of North and South Holland. The ROBIN 3 system is also used for the annual bird migration count and is shown at various public events where the Air Force is present.
In 2002, the Air Force requests the group of prof.dr.ir. Willem Bouten at the University of Amsterdam to develop a Bird Avoidance Model (BAM). In 2002, the NL-BAM is put into operation. The model has since been refined. To the satisfaction of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, the model provides a bird migration forecasting system with high reliability: “Model predictions already correspond to 80% with the intensity of bird migration measured by the radar“.
At the end of 2005, the ROBIN4 bird migration warning system – developed and largely improved by TNO – becomes operational. At the same time, ROBIN is also being introduced by the Belgian Air Force at the Glons military radar. Many bird migration specialists, both from the Netherlands and abroad, pay a visit to the ROBIN system.
The accompanying graph shows that the Air Force has achieved a major reduction in the number of bird strikes of some 90% since the introduction of the ROBIN systems. An unexpected side effect is that the difference between the actual and planned losses of aircraft in peacetime results in much higher expenditure on maintenance as more aircraft than budgeted were not lost but are still operational. The Ministry of Defence subsequently decides to sell their ‘redundant’ F16s.
The next page described how ROBIN research and development becomes an independent company.
The book [in Dutch] “KIEVIT wordt ROBIN en vliegt uit“.