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Pigeons get backpacks for pollution patrol

Flocks of pigeons fitted with mobile phone backpacks are to be used to monitor air pollution.
/ Source: Reuters

Flocks of pigeons fitted with mobile phone backpacks are to be used to monitor air pollution, New Scientist magazine reported Wednesday.

The 20 pigeons will be released into the skies over San Jose, Calif., in August. Each bird will carry a GPS satellite tracking receiver, air pollution sensors and a basic mobile phone.

Automated text messages on air quality will be beamed back in real time to a special pigeon Web log. Miniature cameras slung around the pigeons' necks will also snap aerial pictures for posting.

The idea is the brainchild of researcher Beatriz da Costa, of the University of California at Irvine, and two of her students.

They have built a prototype of the pigeons' equipment, containing a mobile phone circuit board with SIM card and communication chips, a GPS receiver, and sensors capable of detecting carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.

"We are combining an air pollution sensor with a home-made cellphone," da Costa told New Scientist.

The team is planning to squeeze all the components onto a single board small enough for the birds to carry in a backpack, New Scientist said.

The pigeons will take to the air at the Inter-Society for Electronic Arts' annual symposium in San Jose on Aug. 5.

The data they send back will be displayed on the blog in the form of an interactive map.