In London, pigeons are a ubiquitous part of the cityscape. They can be seen in the streets and squares, chortling about in search of insects and crumbs. Some of the small grey birds are taking on a big job this week by monitoring the city’s air quality for three days, as Plume Labs launches the Pigeon Air Patrol project. Aimed at raising awareness about London’s polluted skies, the project relies on Twitter to connect residents with backpack-sporting pigeons to get air quality information specific to their location in real time.
Plume Labs launched the Pigeon Air Patrol project on Monday, sending the pigeons to fly around London for three days to gather information. The program equips trained racing pigeons with tiny backpacks that hold environmental sensors to read air pollution along the birds’ flight path. The lightweight sensors don’t interfere with the birds’ ability to fly around while they gather data about levels of pollutants like ozone, volatile compounds, and nitrogen dioxide in the city’s air, all tagged with GPS locations. Essentially, the pigeons create a map of London’s air quality, which is something quite difficult to do in real time without little birds to carry around the equipment.
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The company is using Twitter to release reports from the pigeons from time to time, and they invite Londoners to interact with the project by tweeting @PigeonAir with their area of the city to learn about local air pollution from a pigeon’s point of view.
If you’re concerned about the welfare of the pollution-monitoring animals, Plume Labs says you shouldn’t be. All of the pigeons participating in the program are owned by a man named Brian who cares for them as if they were pets. These racing pigeons tend to live four times longer than pigeons on the street, the company says in the above video, because of this special attention. After the three-day air quality monitoring campaign is over, the pigeons will return to their regular lives, doing whatever it is that racing pigeons do.
Images via Pigeon Air Patrol