Thursday, August 10, 2006

With backpacks and cellphones these Pigeon Scientists transmit data to a website

Equipped with miniature smog sensors, the birds will transmit air pollution data to a "pigeon blog" website. Beatriz da Costa, an assistant professor of arts, computation and engineering at UC Irvine, brainstormed the idea as a playful way to get people thinking about the health hazards of smog.The airborne art expedition is part of ZeroOne San Jose, a weeklong showcase of technology and art that includes a robotic willow tree, a karaoke ice cream truck and a laughing bicycle.

Da Costa's entry was inspired by a century-old photo of a homing pigeon wearing a tiny spy camera. The birds have a long history of military service — and some received medals for their World War II heroics. Now, pigeons have entered the Digital Age. Da Costa and two graduate students spent a year developing bird-sized cellphones, GPS tracking devices and air pollution monitors. (Sorry, still no sign of a pigeon iPod.)

The featherweight gadgetry fits inside a spandex backpack originally designed by a Colorado river-rafting company that employs pigeons to carry rolls of film back to civilization during wilderness tours. Each smog-sniffing backpack weighs less than a 10th of a pigeon's body weight and costs $250, Da Costa said. Measurements of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide are relayed to Earth via pigeon cellphone and posted at (excerpts from an article by Roy Rivenburg)

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