Pigeons in the sky with sensors: A novel IoT pollution solution

15 Mar 2016

A designer in London has devised a natural method of deploying internet of things (IoT) pollution sensors across the city using its thousands of pigeons as roaming investigators.

Sensors being used for IoT pollution analysis are steadily on the increase in major cities as part of the development of so-called smart cities, but there’s no denying that building an entire network of sensors is a costly process.

But what if there was a much easier – and much cheaper – solution to establishing a network of sensors?

That’s where the creative director of the marketing agency DigitasLBI, Pierre Dequesnoy, had a rather ‘coo-l’ idea to highlight the issues of pollution in the UK’s capital city, both for the people that live there, and the pigeons that also call it their home.

According to The Guardian, yesterday (14 March), Dequesnoy and pigeon fancier Brian Woodhouse released a number of racing pigeons, with three attached to a lightweight sensor that monitors levels of nitrogen dioxide in the city’s air.

Fixing the pigeon image problem

Created as part of a project called Pigeon Air Patrol, the connected sensor is then able to inform the public of its findings through the pigeon’s own Twitter account, which will also respond when asked by residents what the readings are in their area.

While currently only on one pigeon, the idea makes a lot of sense given that the pigeon population of London is estimated to be around 200,000 by those who have put in the hours of research.

“There’s something about taking what is seen as a flying rat and reversing that into something quite positive,” said Duquesnoy, who has also called the city’s level of pollution a “scandal”.

Duqesnoy said he was inspired to use pigeons having seen how effective pigeons were when used during the two world wars as a means of communication.

Air quality expert Gary Fuller from King’s College London, commenting on the project, somewhat jokingly said: “It’s great that unemployed pigeons from Trafalgar Square are being put to work.

“Around 15 years ago tests were done on around 150 stray dogs in Mexico City, showing the ways in which air pollution was affecting lungs and heart health. But this is the first time that I’ve heard of urban wild animals being used to carry sensors to give us a picture of the air pollution over our heads.”

London pigeon image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic