To raise awareness about London’s air pollution, a new project is strapping tiny sensor-laden backpacks to pigeons and tweeting the results.
On Monday, 10 birds — codenamed the Pigeon Air Patrol — armed with 25-gram backpacks that monitor ozone and nitrogen dioxide levels first took flight on Monday, and the patrol made their final roost yesterday.
Londoners curious about the air quality in their area tweeted @PigeonAir with their location, and the patrol, with the help of Plume Labs, tweeted back an air quality update, such as “moderate” or “very high.”
"So the Pigeon Patrol has been about making the invisible, visible,” Romain Lacombe, CEO of Plume Labs told CNN. “And there's a nice parallel there — we don't always think about the fact we breathe about 20 (kilograms) of air every day, much in the same way that pigeons themselves are all around us, and we rarely notice them.”
In case you’re worried about the birds’ health while they’re swooping through smog, a veterinarian monitored the flock’s health throughout the three-day project.
London’s air quality has historically made headlines, including 1952’s Great Smog linked to more than 4,000 deaths. Last year a report also found that 9,500 people in the city die each year from repeated exposure to particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.
“Most of the time when we talk about pollution people think about Beijing or other places,” Pierre Duquesnoy, who designed the project, told The Guardian. “But there are some days in the year when pollution was higher and more toxic in London than Beijing; that’s the reality.”
The same project — if they can raise about $14,000 through this pigeon push — is looking for London-area volunteers to “fly with the flock” and strap on a sensor while cycling, running or walking for ground-level mapping of London air quality.
Do you think this is a creative way to raise pollution awareness, or just a bird-brained idea? Should more cities be finding interactive ways to engage with air quality hazards? Comment below or tweet @KatieeMohr.