Sensor-Laden Pigeons Gather Data For Urban Weather Modeling

When it comes to gathering environmental data in real-world settings, urban environments have to be the most challenging. Every city has nooks and crannies that create their own microenvironments, and placing enough sensors to get a decent picture of what’s going on in all of them is a tough job. But if these sensor-laden pigeons have anything to say about it, the job might get a bit easier.

The idea for using pigeons as biotelemetry platforms comes to us from the School of Geography, Earth, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham in the UK. [Rick Thomas], lead investigator on the “CityFlocks” project, explains that meteorological models are hampered by a lack of data about the air in the urban canyons formed by tall buildings. Placing a lot of fixed sensors has a prohibitive cost, and using drones to do the job would probably cause regulatory problems, especially given recent events. But pigeons are perfect for the job once they’re outfitted with an “Avian-Meteorology Instrumentation Package (AvMIP)”. From the photographs we’re guessing the AvMIP is a pretty simple data logger with GPS and inputs for the usual sensors, all powered by a small LiPo pack. Luckily, the pigeons used are all domesticated racing birds that return to the nest, so no radio transmitter is needed, but if other urban avians such as peregrine falcons and seagulls are used then a future AvMIPS might leverage pervasive WiFi networks to upload data.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen mobile platforms used to fill in gaps in weather data, of course. And if this at all puts you in mind of that time pigeons were used to guide bombs, relax – no pigeons were harmed in the making of this research project.

Thanks to [Itay Ramot] for the tip [via Gizmodo].

30 thoughts on “Sensor-Laden Pigeons Gather Data For Urban Weather Modeling

    1. With intermittent sprinkles till evening then starting again at sunrise.

      Turkey Buzzards. They might give higher temps though since they love heat lift. Years ago you only saw one or two in the country, now gobs of them hang out all over town and take a rest roost on a unused cell tower near my work. Don’t walk under the tower. Where they go at night, who knows maybe down by the river. I have thought maybe it’s a CIA plot to get us accustomed to seeing large bird like objects in our urban skies.

  1. Disgusting is the first word that came to my mind after looking at this piece. Though I don’t have any special love for pigeons, still felt bad. Why can’t human stop harassing other life.

    1. How is this harassment? The pigeons are bred for racing and homing, and they are cared for by fanatically devoted people. They’re fitted with a lightweight sensor that doesn’t impede their flight or hurt them in any way, and they get to do what they were bred for while gathering data that may help improve the world in which they live, a feat they themselves are ill-equipped for. That sounds an awful lot like our species caring for another one, and exactly the opposite of harassment.

      1. Yeah sure. Why don’t you try gluing some equipment on your back and go around, then talk about it? There are people all over who think they are ‘above’ all other lifeforms. Who gave you right to use them for your research? Who are you to decide for them? They are not helping the world they live in. They are being used by humans to help the world, humans are ruining in first place. Trying to be naive is no excuse for idioticness.

  2. In my humble opinion the city pigeon is among the most useless of life to be found in it, people have been told to stop trying to feed them because it attracts other things, but aside from that some good may come from it. What good? That depends. Of course I found the article’s style a little difficult to parse successfully.

    1. These aren’t common pigeons, these are racing and homing pigeons. The fact that the sensor pack only records and does not transmit data makes a pigeon that returns home critical to the project.

  3. It’s about time pigeons paid their dues. For too long they have fed from the hand of man with little in return. Other then droppings that decay statues and dirty our cars. The water used to clean our cars has environmental implications also. This all stems from a completely selfish disregard for those that they share their environment with.

    1. There are protocols that work just fine with slow exchange and eventual consistency, Scuttlebutt comes to mind. It’d be amusing to see how useful a network would be if two otherwise-disconnected swarms of users could exchange data only at the speed of pigeon.

  4. Personally, I think it’s a GREAT idea. As to the people who want all pigeons dead: Hey,Bud! They were here long before _YOU_ were. Like, 200,000,000 years before? You’re the invader, not the pigeons. Plus, they’re a lot more cuddly.

  5. Seems like if the LiPo pack was sufficiently dense/powerful or the bird species larger and more athletic they could become an Internet of Birds, acting as Avian hotspots. Some birds would carry sensors, others would act as hotspots and relays of the data depending on the need.

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