The Crowbox Turns Crows into a Cash Machine

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[Joshua Klein] is intrigued by crows, and in particular, their intelligence. He’s devised a system that may be able to train wild crows into performing useful tasks, such as exchanging lost coins for treats.

The idea started as a random conversation at a cocktail party almost 10 years ago, and now has become a reality. In fact, we actually mentioned this project’s beginnings 5 years ago! So far they have succeeded in training captive crows to exchange lost coins using the Crowbox to receive treats. The end goal however is to teach wild crows the same thing — once this is proven, it could be extended to other tasks, like search and rescue, sorting through discarded electronics, or even garbage collection!

The project is opensource, and the Arduino driven Crowbox is looking for alpha-testers to help experiment with wild crows from different locals. The current community is rather small, so if you’re interested in the concept, please check it out. We’ve attached [Joshua's] excellent TED talk on the intelligence of crows after the break — if you’re not fascinated by crows yet, you will be!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXQAgzfwuNQ

Now while the end goal isn’t to have a murder of crows collecting money for you… actually that would be pretty cool.

Comments

  1. Geekmaster says:

    You could reward crows for stealing coins from car washes, and trading them for peanuts:

    • ChalkBored says:

      Good, the machines at the local car washes skim quarters. Now I can get my money back.

    • static says:

      The speaker wasn’t optimistic about the ROI depending on crows scavenging coins so he could sell them food. Perhaps a hacker could have less investment than many otherwise end up with. would be an , but I’mnot interestiteresing experiment to see if one can earn enough to pay for the food dispensed

      • static says:

        Good grief I’d edit that or delete the comment if I could. Has Hackaday given up on finding a commenting system that would bring us into the 21st. Century like IMO a tech oriented blog should? I understand the last trial ended because of reasons other than complaints, but I doubt if many would walk away because of change. They may roar, but off line some can’t manage the squeak of a young mouse

  2. rue_mohr says:

    “sometime around 2015 a wishing well couldn’t be found with coins still in it….”

  3. Galane says:

    As the bird trainers found out on “The Birds”, birds have a memory capacity of about a week if they don’t keep repeating a task. They trained birds to land on people’s heads for a treat and for about a week after shooting wrapped the local birds they’d trained kept landing on people’s heads.

    Has anyone done research on things birds learn on their own, such as dropping walnuts on parking lots to crack them? If a crow is kept from doing that for a period of time does it forget about it? If it forgets, can it re-learn from watching other crows drop walnuts?

    I’ve seen squirrels putting walnuts out on roads for cars to run over. Amazing they can do that when they can’t remember in spring where they’ve buried most of the nuts in fall.

    • Dan says:

      “Has anyone done research on things birds learn on their own, such as dropping walnuts on parking lots to crack them?”

      I’d recommend “Gifts of the Crow”. It ranges from corvid (crows, ravens, jays, etc) behavior to neurology.

    • spider says:

      http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_(parrot) it isnt a study of wild birfs but it is a study intothe intellegence of birds

    • ChalkBored says:

      >I’ve seen squirrels putting walnuts out on roads for cars to run over. Amazing they can do that when they can’t remember in spring where they’ve buried most of the nuts in fall.

      Get a bag of walnuts, paint them so you know they’re yours, hide them out in the woods in the fall, then try to find them all on Easter morning.

    • Blue Footed Booby says:

      You can’t just say “birds” and have any statement of intelligence or memory be true. Individual families and species vary wildly.

      Crows can distinguish between individual humans, can hold grudges for years–say, against a human who tries to harm one–and can even pass grudges on to young, who learn by watching who their parents harass. New calidonian crows not only use tools, they use tools to *make* tools.

      As for nuts in the road, there’s a youtube video from a David Attenborough documentary ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGPGknpq3e0 ) where crows drop nuts specifically in crosswalks, then wait on the sidewalk for the light to change so they can retrieve the crushed nut safely.

      • Blue Footed Booby says:

        Crows cache food. Some will watch other crows, then steal the food when they leave. Knowing this, particularly crafty individuals will *pretend* to cache food when they know they’re being watched, then try to furtively carry it off to bury elsewhere.

    • Chippy Treats says:

      Squirrels have a great sense of smell, and I’m sure many buried treats are located and stolen that way.

      We are gifted with many wild chipmunks. On a calm day, I can toss a peanut anywhere in the bushes/grass/leaves within 15-20 feet of a chippy den. When the chipmunk emerges, I see it sniff the air for a brief 2-3 seconds and then go directly to the peanut. I watched this repeat again and again. I never doubted their ability to eventually find peanuts, but the quick directionality from a distance was quite uncanny to observe.

  4. andarb says:

    Is it just me or does that thing look like some sort of Pokemon waiting to eat the crows?

  5. strider_mt2k says:

    Wildlings don’t take to crows.
    (Winter is coming)

  6. Hirudinea says:

    Yea, that’s it, make them lazy buggers work for a living!

  7. sneakypoo says:

    When I was a kid it wasn’t that uncommon to find random coins on the ground, now though, a couple of decades later, it’s damn near impossible. With the economy being what it is and most people paying by card rather than cash it seems the chance of finding change in the street is coming to an end.

  8. mike says:

    Deceptive title. Definitely expected to see some sort of human-based payout system for submitting dead crows…

  9. supershwa says:

    Reminds me of B.F. Skinner’s studies on pigeons. The intro to the 2009 movie, Mr. Nobody had this nice clip:

  10. Haku says:

    Does this mean there will be another one of those damned buzzwords being created?

    What word do I mean?

    “Crowfunding”

  11. static says:

    I live in that part of Kansas where the owls date the chicken in hopes of getting some nookie and where grain crops are plentiful. Working in the oilfield I was outdoors all day most everyday, I have seen a lot about wildlife, but seen few crows. Plenty of raccoons though. In all likely hood the raccoons would take the shiny quarters back to their den and proceed to destroy the machine to get at the food. Interesting experiment, but no thanks

  12. blubluh says:

    When he can train crows to fetch me the woman of my dreams, then I’m in! :-)

  13. Scenario in late 2014:-

    Crow lands near metal lamp post, with “something” in its mouth.
    No-one bats an eyelid because its a crow behaving in typical crow fashion.

    fx: NSA HQ, “Somewhere in America”
    “Yeah, we planted the bug next to the target”…

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