AUG 12

Bionic Pigeons Monitor Pollution?

Written by on August 12, 2006

This weekend, pigeons wearing tiny backpacks will roam the skies over Northern California. It’s not a manifestation of pet personhood, it’s a science project. The backpacks, equipped with smog sensors, GPS and a cell phone, gather air pollution data during the flight which is submitted – in real time – to the PigeonBlog website.

As the pigeons fly about, the sensors gather information on oxdizing gases, such as Nitrogen Oxides and Volatile Organic Compounds, as well as reducing gases, such as Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide and Hydrocarbons. On the MAP section of PigeonBlog you can follow both the sensory readings and the flying trajectory superimposed onto a satellite map of the area the pigeons fly over. The site also provides information about the composition of our air, common pollutants and their known health effects as well as the EPA’s Air Quality Index and the current state of air pollution in the United States today.




The real scientist behind the project is Beatriz da Costa who is an Assistant Professor of Arts, Computation and Engineering at the University of California, Irvine. She brainstormed the idea as a playful way to get people thinking about the health hazards of smog and as an alternative way to participate in environmental air pollution data gathering.

Da Costa's entry was inspired by a century-old photo of a homing pigeon wearing a tiny spy camera designed by the German engineer Julius Neubronner. She and her team of two graduate students spent a year developing the bird sized packs that weigh a tenth of a pigeons body weight and cost about $250 each. The airborne expedition is part of ZeroOne San Jose, a weeklong showcase of technology and art.


4 Responses to “Bionic Pigeons Monitor Pollution?”

  1. jade says:

    hi i thinks its a very good idea that pigeons mesure pollution i think thats a very good idea :)

  2. leah says:

    i think this is a very good idea and should be used more often

  3. celia says:

    Weather balloons is the only other option I can think of that can measure smog without contributing to it.

  4. a guest says:

    Thanks for the entry. Btw, “bionic” is more appropriate to refer to electronics/mechanics that are integrated with biological things… such as artificial limbs that can be controlled by nerves. Humans are not “bionic” just because we carry cellphones and laptops, right? :)