GPS-Equipped Pigeons Enlisted as Pollution Bloggers

October 31, 2006

Part of the Digital Places Special News Series
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If pigeons wrote their own blogs, they might talk about where to score breadcrumbs or find prime roosting spots.

Now, with the help of tiny high-tech backpacks, pigeons really have become bloggers—but they're posting messages about California smog.

In a project known as PigeonBlog, sensors in the backpacks collect data on toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, as the birds wing through city skies.

The information is then sent back to a central computer, which automatically posts a map of the pollutants' concentration on the Internet. (Related: "Global Positioning Tech Inspires Do-It-Yourself Mapping Project" [October 18, 2006].)

Avian Reporters

Beatriz da Costa, a professor of arts, computation, and engineering at the University of California, Irvine, dreamed up the idea.

One of the inspirations for the project was moving to California and "seeing the smog in L.A.," she said. "It's pretty bad out here." (Los Angeles photos, maps, and more.)

Around the same time she ran across a century-old photo of a pigeon with a camera around its neck.

"Pigeons were clearly one of our first ... delivery systems," da Costa said.

She decided to update this idea for the 21st century and "use pigeons as journalists to report on a current situation."

High-Tech Cargo

Continued on Next Page >>


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