Pigeon bloggers will monitor pollution

A flock of Californian pigeons, each bird equipped with a scaled down monitoring array, are to get its own website to report pollution in the skies above San Jose.

The 20 pigeon bloggers will carry air pollution sensors, a miniature cellphone, camera and a GPS receiver as they patrol the city seeking out pollution.

The birds will send text messages back reporting their findings at regular intervals and the information will be posted in real time on their blog.

An article on the pigeon proposal has appeared in New Scientist.

“We are combining an air pollution sensor with a home-made cellphone,” Beatriz da Costa, artist-cum-scientific researcher at the University of California, told the magazine.

She came up with the idea of the pigeon blog with her students Cina Hazegh and Kevin Ponto.

The team has built a prototype of the pigeons’ kit containing a cellphone circuit board with SIM card and communication chips, a GPS receiver and carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide sensors.

They now plan to squeeze all the components onto a single board small enough for the birds to carry in a back pack.

The airborne pollution hunters are due to be released at the Inter-Society for Electronic Arts’ annual symposium in San Jose on 5 August.

The data they send back will be displayed on the blog in the form of an interactive map.

As well as providing local residents with real-time data on air quality, da Costa hopes the pigeon blog will inspire people to come up with new ways to monitor the environment.

The pigeons will also carry cameras around their necks and post aerial photos to the blog.

It is hoped the that birds of a feather will not flock together, and will instead fan out all over the city to build up a detailed picture of pollution hotspots and clear skies.

By Sam Bond

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