Thursday, November 02, 2006

Pigeons As Bloggers

Ordinary Rock Pigeons in California are being used to monitor that state's notoriously smoggy skies. Pigeons are equipped with special lightweight backpacks that monitor the levels of certain smog gases such as carbon monoxide. As the pigeons fly, their backpacks relay the gas levels to central computers, which post the results on a blog.

Each bundle contains gas sensors along with a global positioning system (GPS) for tracking the birds and a stripped-down cell phone that automatically transmits the data they collect.

The parts for each pack cost about $250 (U.S.) and weigh just 1.3 ounces (37 grams), about a tenth of a pigeon's weight.

Then da Costa had to enlist some birds. Rather than plucking random pigeons off the street, she got in touch with pigeon fanciers who owned homing pigeons....

The volunteers strapped the packs onto their pigeons, then took the birds up to 20 miles (32 kilometers) away from their homes and released them.

As the birds flew home, the backpacks sampled the air. The data, combined with GPS coordinates for each reading, were sent to PigeonBlog, which then automatically generated a pollution map (click here and then on the "map" tab to see an example).
The researchers working with these pigeons hope to create cheaper versions of the sensors that can be used more widely, including in homes and in Third World countries. Cheaper sensors could conceivably be carried by people as well as pigeons. More information about the project is available at PigeonBlog.