Crowded Cities: Startup invents device that trains crows to help rid city streets of cigarette litter

Dutch startup Crowded Cities is developing a device that trains crows to collect discarded cigarettes in a bid to rid city streets of cigarette pollution. In exchange, the crows receive food by way of peanuts.

Cigarettes are the most littered item on earth. Worldwide about 4.5 trillion cigarettes are littered each year. With 98% of cigarette filters made of plastic fibers (cellulose acetate), the plastic inside cigarette filters can take up to 10 years to decompose.

Crowded Cities, founded by Ruben van der Vleuten and Bob Spikman, aims to train crows to exchange cigarette butts for food by using a device known as the Crowbar.

How Crowded Cities envisage the “clean up” to work is that a crow brings a cigarette filter to the Crowbar, where they drop it into the bottom funnel to get it checked. After the camera has recognised the cigarette filter as a filter, it returns a bit of food to the table in front of the crow. The hope is that trained crows will fly all over the city looking for cigarette butts to drop into the machine.

Ruben van der Vleuten and Bob Spikman explain: “Through observation we concluded crows are the smartest around us to reach any spot in the city. What if crows can bring cigarette filters to one of our Crowbars to exchange the filter for food? This is how our adventure started.

“By training crows to recognize and pick up cigarette filters we can solve this tenacious problem of city pollution. It is the Crowbar that does the training for us and gives out food as a reward.”

Crowded Cities are currently building a prototype to test whether or not the design will work. Given that cigarettes are filled with toxic chemicals, Crowded Cities are looking at monitoring its effects on crows’ health and behaviour.

The Crowbar is based on a design created by an American inventor, Joshua Klein. Joshua Klein’s method of teaching crows to collect coins was a source of inspiration for Crowded Cities in their Crowbar training setup.

Crowded Cities

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. Follow Rosa on Twitter.


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