Bird Buggy Soothes A Screeching Parrot


[Andrew] has enjoyed the company of [Pepper] the parrot for more than a decade, but the screeching of a bird in the next room is something you just don’t get used to. [Pepper] gets very lonely some times, and short of having someone carry him around on a shoulder, there’s not much that will calm this parrot down. [Andrew] had the idea of allowing [Pepper] to wander around the house with the help of a mobile platform. Thus was born the Bird Buggy, a parrot-controlled vehicle built just for [Pepper].

The buggy itself is a basic two-wheel drive platform driven with a small beak-compatible joystick mounted just forward of [Pepper]’s perch. With this system, it’s possible for [Pepper] to follow [Andrew] through the house. [Andrew] wanted to make sure [Pepper] couldn’t drive into walls or table legs, so a suite of sensors on the front stops the buggy whenever an object is detected.

One very cool feature of the bird buggy is its ability to drive itself to a recharging station. It does this with the help of a webcam and OpenCV and a pair of markers just behind the charging port. When the Beagleboard on the buggy sees the green and yellow markers for the charging port align, it knows its directly in front of the charging port.

You can see [Pepper] driving his new whip around after the break, along with a very cool demo of the bird buggy docking with its charging port.




67 thoughts on “Bird Buggy Soothes A Screeching Parrot

    1. Parrots are smart. I’d guess he pecked at the joystick the first time out of curiosity, discovered it did something, then worked out the details on his own.

      Re: the project itself — +many for sheer awesome!

      1. That’s what I was hoping. Just get the parrot to sit on it, and let it go. I’d love to see the documentation of the bird learning on it’s own.
        I so wish I could have a bird like that, but no place for them. Looked like that bird was having a great time though.

        1. There is video in the media section of the bird (not) learning to turn right. I think my Quaker parrot would freak out and never get used to this, but I might be wrong. My parrot really, really hates changes in his environment, it would take months to get him used to something like this, if ever. It’s a real accomplishment.

    1. It probably can’t fly, many pet birds have certain feathers clipped to prevent flying, so they don’t escape.
      And on the project page, it mentioned how the bird is likely to be stepped on if allowed to walk around the house.

      1. Better derail this before the comments spiral out of control like I have seen elsewhere on this project.

        Wing clipping, i.e. feather shortening, just affects a few of the primary flight feathers. It is similar to clipping your nails so you don’t scratch yourself or others. The birds can still fly, it is just really inefficient/uncomfortable so they chose to avoid doing it.

        Clipping is not to prevent escape (though it can be), the primary reason is so they don’t go flying about the house and bang into things. These birds live a long time and every bump adds up. It is common for unmodified birds (yeah gross but technically correct term) to have neurological issues onset early in life that eventually kills them. You can think of clipping as similar to preventing your cat or dog from roaming outside. They have less freedom, but wont get in fights, wont get diseases, and will have a longer and healthier life.

        1. Yeah, my brother’s parrot occasionally took to wing despite being clipped regularly. It never could quite get the hang of windows. If it had felt more comfortable flying it might not have had as long as it did.

          Someone else adopted the parrot later, and a few years later it died. Poor Dobby.

          1. Yes, you have to keep the feathers clipped, ALL the time. or else, the bird will fly. Perhaps fly up on a power pole or something. And refuse to come down. And get lost forever. Don’t ask me how I know this.

  1. Parrots are very inquisitive and clever. Most likely figured it out on his own. Set him on the perch, he’ll notice the joystick and fiddle it himself. Likely startled him the first time he made it move, but he’d figure it out pretty quick. My mom has a Quaker, smaller and perhaps not as clever as the gray, but he’d get it going. Mom’s bird hates me.

  2. The African Grey Macaw is an extremely intelligent bird and I have no doubt that training him to use the robot was no harder than putting him on the perch and putting treats in front of him (one of the videos on his site shows this).

    I dunno if this stopped his shrieking totally, but now the bird is mobile and can do whatever he wants! You can see in the video that he loves his new toy, so I wish Pepper many (many!) more happy years with his owner!

    1. Oh, I totally forgot to post this above: African Greys are notoriously lazy. They can walk around and follow you just fine, but they would rather just scream at you (they are smart and know you will walk to them instead).

      1. They love to converse with you…my daughter has 9 Greys…they carry on conversations….one is crippled and hobbles…Sharla would dearly love to have a buggy for Sweetie Pie……where can she purchase one for her birds..

    2. IF you have to clip the wings to keep it from banging itself into walls, intelligent might be the wrong word.

      Still, great little bird toy. Sure beats a gilded cage, and having newspaper under the bird all the time is probably a big plus versus having it walk/fly around dropping poo everwhere…I’d vote that little piece of newspaper as being more important than the self docking feature.

      1. No, really, they’re scary smart. Ever hear of Alex the parrot? Same species. You could give him matchbox cars and he’d tell you whether they were cars or trucks. This isn’t just an amusing trick: before Alex, scientists thought these kinds of classification abilities were unique to humans.

        He’d also insult other parrots when they got questions wrong (“you turkey”), and ask to go back to his cage when he didn’t feel like doing whatever they wanted him to do. By some estimates, African grays are as smart as a three to five year old human child.

    1. I wonder if that’s because they’re like pigeons? They have to “bob their head” to see where they’re going? I think it gives them the perspective or something, I forgot. But they MUST bob their heads when they walk or they can’t see.

      Interesting thought. Of course, the parrot could just sit on the perch and bob it’s head, but it can’t drive at the same time. So it probably has to stop and “bob it’s head” then take off driving again.

      1. That “bobbing” you’re talking is because the birds have monocular vision, meaning that the eyes are on the sides of it’s head, not allowing it to create a triangle when it’s eyes focus on a point and have the brain determine the depth based on that. Instead with their monocular vision they bob their heads and gauge the change in the view of the two points and in that way they get a perspective view on both sides of their heads.

        But yes, I can say with certainty that this parrot has monocular vision and does this exact thing (:

      2. Actually, they can switch between monocular and biocular like us. Sometimes they lean their head back to inspect things that are relatively close, and you can tell they’re in “mono mode”. Other times they are looking straight at you (but it’s kind of creepy because ours, at least, always looks like she’s angry). Amazing creatures!

  3. This is awesome. The bird steers a bit, then looks with his head turned sideways to see where he is at, then drives some more. When it goes over the bumps it startles the bird each time.

  4. Wonder if a omni directional steering method would be more intuitive then the above differential steering. Macnum or some kind of omni steering with a single steering actuator for all wheels and and single drive motor for all wheels.

  5. Your cart is excellent. I’m tired of seeing projects where highly intelligent people spend countless hours making things that they can get from Home Depot for $19.95 just because they can. I would have stopped with the cart alone but you blew it out with the charging feature and code. Great work that can’t be had at the Despot.

  6. Brilliant! The best feature is the built in toilet. Beats him walking around and us stepping in poo, notice the advert for human shoes getting it’s due. Next add a fruit tie down and seed cup for eating on the road, and pod for playing jungle music.

  7. Amazing project, and newspaper on it too, where else can you find a car with a bathroom in it! Anyway aside from the hack the parrots behaviour is what interests me, he drives a bit, looks around, drives a bit more, wonder what he’s thinking. An interesting upgrade would be to log the movements of the vehicle, map the data out and see if there are any patterns.

    1. Probably needed more vertical view than horizontal being the cam cant move vertical but can horizontally using the buggies locomotion. Im sure image processing has no I’ll effects regardless of orientation.

  8. Awesome solution and execution. He really seemed to enjoy his new wheels in the video.
    Now Pepper needs to have his ride pimped so he can go cruizing lookin’ for the layyydeees.
    What kind of car does a parrot drive? An Eagle Talon. (Yeah, I know it’s out of business.)
    What tunes does a parrot listen to when he drives? The Birds of course.

  9. Yep, probably one of the best projects around, because it’s got a way cool bird in it. I’ve got a really lazy dog that would probably like something like this too. Maybe something to bring her food, and water, in bed.

  10. Birds are wayyy cooler than most any hack.

    This project manages to combine the two in a great way.

    But when will Pepper get a tablet on his kart so he can browse the web while cruising?

  11. My congratulations to Pepper for his success in taming the great ape.

    With all evidence indicating Pepper can extract benefits through screeching, I look forward to what next Pepper acquires.

  12. This is truly an amazing hack. I would love to acquire a model or the plans for one of these buggies. My brother is an African Grey (just don’t call him a parrot, he will get upset), doesn’t fly and is a tad agoraphobic. So I would have to modify the buggy to create a dome over it to give him his illusion of protection (as well as protect the wood and human shins in the house).
    I am also sure that Pepper learned how to drive really quickly, as my brother already knows what a car is and that they are driven, so I am sure he’d pick up on driving his own buggy really quickly.
    Any chance of talking to you, Brian, of a way to get a buggy for my brother?

  13. What a novel project! I do hope the bird-compatible joystick is also bird-impervious. That, or easily replaced.
    I laughed myself breathless thinking of how my own parrot might react:
    1) bite the joystick
    2) lurch forward
    3) get startled & lose balance
    4) take revenge on the joystick
    5) refer to (3)

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