Over in the Swedish city of Södertälje, about 30 km southwest of Stockholm, a pilot program is being explored which will enlist crows to clean up discarded cigarette butts. Butts account for over 60% of litter in Sweden, and the per-butt cleanup cost falls between 0.8 and 2 Swedish kronor each. The company behind the project, Corvid Cleaning, estimates the cost will be around 0.2 kronor. If the birds picked up all the butts, that would be a substantial savings, but in reality, the current manual cleaning will still be needed. Total savings to the city will depend on the ratio of bird-collected vs. people-collected butts. Of course, if people would throw their butts in ashcans or carry pocket ashtrays like those popular in Japan, this would be a non-starter.
Crows were selected because they are considered one of the most intelligent bird — they’re easy to teach, and they communicate with each other. All crows participating in the project are volunteers, and are paid by the butt with a morsel of food dispensed from a machine. We’re reminded of B. F. Skinner’s pigeon-guided missile projects from the 40s and 50s, although cleaning up litter for food should result in a happier outcome for all parties concerned.
This kind of project has been tried before, for example, in a French park back in 2018. And we covered a 2020 project by [Hans] who was training magpies to do similar duty. Are you aware of any of these projects that went past the pilot phase and are in operation? Let us know in the comments below.
Positive reinforcement is the process of getting someone to understand their actions result in a reward. Children get a sweet treat when they pick up all their toys and older ones might get some cash for mowing the lawn. From the perspective of the treat-giver, this is like turning treats into work. A Dutch startup wants to teach the crow population to pick up cigarette butts in exchange for bird treats.
The whole Corvidae family of birds is highly intelligent so it shouldn’t be a problem training them that they will get a reward for depositing something the Hominidae family regularly throw on the street where the birds live. This idea is in turn an evolution of the open-source Crow Box.
For some, leveraging the intelligence of animals is more appealing than programming drones which could do the same thing. A vision system mixed with a drone and a manipulator could fulfull the same function but animals are self-repairing and autonomous without our code. The irony of this project is that, although it’s probably fairly easy to train crows to recognize cigarette butts, the implementation hinges on having a vision system that can recognize the butts in order to properly train the crows in the first place.
If we had the time to train crows, it would definitely be to poop on cars that don’t signal for turns. Maybe some of these winged devices can be programmed to recognize lapses in traffic laws in exchange for some electrons.
Thank you, [jo_elektro], for the tip.
[Cjmekeel] spent weeks getting his Halloween display ready this year. The centerpiece of his offering is this full-sized motorized skeleton. But there’s a few other gems that he worked on to compliment it. There’s an old-fashioned radio whose dial moves mysteriously and plays a news flash warning of an escaped mental patient. He also spent a couple of dollars to outfit a crow with some glowing red eyes and a servo motor.
But the creepiness of the skeleton means you might not even notice those other props. He started with a rather boring looking plain plastic head and did some real magic to build up the rotting flesh and gaping wounds. Those penetrating eyes don’t hurt either. The head moves on a few servo motors which use random values and sleep periods for disturbingly jerky movements. Check out the video after the break to get a glimpse at what kept kids away from his house on Halloween.
This is just a build log and unfortunately there’s no post yet showing the finished product. If we can get enough information together we’ll try to run a follow-up.
Continue reading “Amazingly Realistic Skeleton Prop”
The New York Times has published their 8th annual Year in Ideas. It’s a collection of interesting research and policy changes that have happened in the last year. They cover several projects that we’ve found noteworthy in the past. Pictured above is [Max Donelan]’s power generating knee brace. It generates power as you perform mundane daily activities. Another pick was the Brickley Engine. It has a unique piston layout to reduce friction for increased efficiency. We were particularly interested in the research that discovered drone pilots become exhausted far quicker than pilots in real aircraft. It’s doubtful that this problem of “sensory isolation” will go away and we wonder what other fields it might appear in. They even mention [Josh Klein]’s crow vending machine. You’ll find something to pique your interest in the Year of Ideas, even if it’s DNA forensics for dog poop.