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Racing pigeons harnessed to track air pollution

Technology firm Plume Labs to launch 10 pigeons carrying air pollution monitoring equipment over London skies

A flock of pigeons harnessed with pollution-monitoring equipment will be setting flight over London in the coming days enabling Londoners to track live air quality levels from the sky.

The project sees 10 racing pigeons fitted with air pollution sensor backpacks

The project sees 10 racing pigeons fitted with air pollution sensor backpacks

Over the course of three days, technology firm Plume Labs and marketing agency DigitasLBi will release 10 racing pigeons – dubbed the ‘Pigeon Air Patrol’ – wearing small, lightweight, pollution-monitoring backpacks.

Created by Plume Labs the pollution sensors are stitched onto small fabric vests which are then “comfortablyâ€? worn by the pigeons in order to measure nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone levels across the capital, with Londoners able to track these pollution levels live via Twitter, which is also supporting the initiative.

According to Plume Labs, after tweeting their location to @pigeonair, users receive an instant reply from one of the pigeons – reportedly named Coco, Julius and Norbert – informing them of the air quality in their area.

A live map of the pigeons’ flights as well as further information about air quality can also be viewed at PigeonAirPatrol.com.

“The Pigeon Air Patrol is a perfect example of how data combined with creative storytelling can raise awareness of a serious health and environmental issueâ€? – Pierre Duquesnoy, DigitasLBi.

Visitors to the site are also encouraged to download the Pume Air mobile app and join the London Air Patrol by becoming beta testers for a wearable version of Plum Labs’ air pollution measuring device.

Plume Labs chief executive, Romain Lacombe, said: “Air pollution is a huge environmental health issue, killing 10,000 people every year in London alone. 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.

Pigeons will be monitoring London's air pollution for three days in total

Pigeons will be monitoring London’s air pollution for three days in total

“DigitasLBi is also helping us to recruit beta testers who will be the first to access our devices, to build a collaborative, human-powered air quality monitoring network across London.â€?

Pierre Duquesnoy, creative director at DigitasLBi, added: “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. 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.â€?

It is not the first time attempts have been made to measure pollution levels from the sky. University of Leicester scientists have sought to measure air pollution using both planes (see AirQualityNews.com story) and rockets (see AirQualityNews.com story).

Pigeon welfare

Regarding the welfare of the birds, Plume Labs stressed that as they are racing pigeons they “usually live four times longer than street pigeons because they are so well-cared forâ€? and that the pollution-monitoring flock has its down vet “to double check they’re always in peak healthâ€?.

The European tech firm added that the backpacks worn by the pigeons are tiny and “light as a featherâ€?, while the pollution campaign will run for just three days before the pigeon return to “normal lifeâ€? when “their celebrity Twitter days are overâ€?.

The campaign follows the launch last September of the Plume Air Report free mobile phone app (see AirQualityNews.com story).

Twitter UK’s head of creative agency development, Helen Lawrence, said: “Real time information, direct to your mobile is hugely useful, but add pigeons into that mix and you’ve got something really powerful.â€?

Plume labs pigeon pollution (2)

A flock of 10 pigeons will take part in the project

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