Researchers create backpacks for pigeons to collect atmospheric data

Pigeons are still famous for their ability of carrying messages to the right location and returning back to their nests even though the tradition was practiced several hundred years ago. We might not pay much heed to this fact but a team of researchers from University of Birmingham is using the same tradition to get the messages from the environment.

The team has made a customized backpack that contains all the sensors that retrieve information about the humidity, temperature, ambient light and air pressure of the atmosphere. This backpack can be fitted onto the pigeons so that the atmosphere’s information can be accessed by these researchers to study urban microclimate. But, why birds and not drones? Well, because firstly drones are not permitted in a few areas due to security concerns while pigeons can fly about anywhere without being noticed and secondly, with per backpack costing $250 this method is unbelievably cost effective as compared to other modern devices.

pigeon backpacks by Rick Thomas

The researchers have collaborated with volunteers who raise home pigeons and are willing to put their pigeons to service for the good of humanity. The backpacks weigh only 3% of the pigeons’ body weight and only those pigeons are selected for the purpose whose body complements the fitting of the backpack hence animal cruelty is not even a concern in this research. “If [the pigeon owners] are not happy with any aspect of putting the sensors on their back, then they don’t have to fly their birds,” Rick Thomas, research lead says. “The welfare of the birds is utterly paramount.”

Up until now, 620 miles have been logged by these pigeons with their backpack on over the course of 41 flights. The results are coming out well and the team is considering using the data to study how pollution is travelling from one block to another in an urban climate. The team might even carry out this method of data collection in other cities as well which makes us believe that this novel idea is undeniably a breakthrough for the study of atmospheric phenomenon.

pigeon backpacks by Rick Thomas

Image Credits: Rick Thomas

h/t: My Modern Met

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