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Data collecting is for the birds

Homing pigeons are given "backpacks" with GPS enabled devices as part of an alternative air pollution data-gathering experiment.

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Topic: Hardware
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1 of 4 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Bea holding bird

Beatriz da Costa, assistant professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, holds a homing pigeon use as part of her PigeonBlog exhibit going on this week at ZeroOne San Jose, a San Jose, Calif., festival held in conjunction with the annual International Symposium of Electronic Art. Pigeons in the project carry packs equipped with GPS-enabled electronic air quality sensing devices that send real-time air pollution and image data to an online map.

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2 of 4 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Backpacks

These birds are fully equipped with "backpacks" for their journey. The 37-gram packs contain GPS receivers, air pollution sensors and a digital camera. The pollution sensors detect a number of potentially harmful gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. The pigeons send data and photographs to a blog that is updated in real time. The results are displayed on the blog in the form of an interactive map.

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3 of 4 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Closeup of devices

By using the homing pigeons as the "reporters" of current air pollution levels, project organizers hope to invoke urgency about a topic that has health consequences.

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4 of 4 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Bea with partners

PigeonBlog founder Beatriz da Costa and her partners have been working with pigeons for the past year on a data-gathering initiative designed to collect information about air quality conditions and distribute it to the general public.

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