Dec. 7, 2012 at 6:48 PM ET
In an effort to quiet his loud pet parrot, a robotics student has created what must certainly be one of the most complex devices ever to be operated by a bird. The "Bird Buggy" lets the parrot roll safely around the house — and keeps his beak occupied.
Andrew Gray, an engineering graduate student at the University of Florida, set out to make a device that would stop Pepper, his parrot, from screaming all the time. Deterrents didn't work: A robotic squirt gun ended up just being a scream-activated bird bath; meanwhile, a device that rattled loudly when Pepper squawked was just ignored.
Gray noticed that Pepper was calmer when they were in the same room. Of course, a big bird like a parrot can't really be allowed to fly around a house willy-nilly. So Gray built the Bird Buggy, a little scooter with a perch for Pepper and a joystick the bird can operate with his beak.
Now Pepper can navigate the house at a reasonable pace; The scooter has bumpers that respond to collisions by backing up, and an IR sensor that prevents Pepper from ramming anything too hard. The device uses a camera and computer vision system to automatically return to a docking station when not in use. There's even newspaper set down for the inevitable mess.
Pepper is remarkably deft at controlling the platform: In the video, he moves purposefully and avoids obstacles, and appears (as much as such a thing can be observed in a bird) to be enjoying it. And the best part is that, what with all the pushing and pulling of the joystick, he doesn't have a chance to make as much as a peep.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.