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Pigeons wearing tiny backpacks tweet about air pollution

Equipped with little backpack sensors, a group of London pigeons are flying around the city measuring and live-tweeting air pollution levels. Because birds of a feather...tweet together? (Sorry, we had to.)


Tweeting has returned to its rightful owners: the birds. These birds come with a cause, too, hoping to make you more environmentally aware.

They're a flock of 10 pigeons, called the Pigeon Air Patrol, that fly around London and inform the Twittersphere of pollution levels throughout city. The idea was conceived by marketing company DigitasLBi and won Twitter's #PoweredByTweets challenge last year.

The small backpacks the pigeons wear were designed by Paris-based company Plume Labs, who last year released apps for iOS and Android to inform users of their environment's air pollution levels. The backpacks consist of lightweight sensors that detect nitrogen dioxide and ozone levels, and attach to little mesh vests that fit over the pigeons' bodies and leave their wings free.

The pigeons, of course, don't report autonomously. Instead, users tweet a location within London to the @PigeonAir Twitter account and receive an instant reply notifying them of the air pollution levels in that area. A live map of the pigeons' flight paths can be seen at the Pigeon Air Patrol website.

The little pigeon vests.


"Air pollution is a huge environmental health issue, killing 10,000 people every year in London alone," said Plume Labs CEO Romain Lacombe in a statement.

"Putting air sensors on the back of pigeons goes beyond raising awareness of this problem and helps Londoners understand the impact of pollution in an accessible, tangible and immediate way."

The patrol isn't permanent, as the pigeons will only spend a total of three days flying around London on their mission to engage people with the topic of air pollution.

"Air pollution isn't sexy and people don't engage with it. So the heart of our idea was to make air pollution more accessible and relevant to people," said DigitasLBi creative director Pierre Duquesnoy.

"The Pigeon Air Patrol is a perfect example of how data combined with creative storytelling can raise awareness of a serious health and environmental issue."

Meanwhile, Plume Labs is crowdfunding wearable sensors for humans that will help crowdsource the ongoing surveillance of air pollution in London.