It’s no secret that living in a dense city—with cars pumping out endless amounts of pollution —isn’t going to do wonders for your lungs. But one London tech company wants to know exactly how carcinogenic that air is, and it’s recruiting pigeons as part of its air-monitoring arsenal.

As part of a program called Pigeon Air Patrol, UK company Plume Labs is strapping pigeons with air-quality sensors to monitor how toxic air levels are in certain parts of London. In fact, you can even tweet @PigeonAir to request air readings of your neighborhood or surrounding area.

The birds themselves are outfitted with small, pigeon-sized backpacks filled with sensors monitoring ozone, volatile compounds, and oxygen dioxide, according to the project’s website. All of these sensors and GPS units only weigh 25 grams, so the pigeons have no problem staying airborne. The tech-equipped birds took their first flight on Monday.

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This might all seem just some remarkable gimmick, but that’s kind of the whole point. While the campaign itself will only last three days, Pierre DuQuesnoy, the guy behind the project, told the Guardian that its main goal is to raise awareness about London’s air quality crisis:

“Most of the time when we talk about pollution people think about Beijing or other places, but there are some days in the year when pollution was higher and more toxic in London than Beijing, that’s the reality.”

Strapping shit to pigeons is surprisingly well-trodden territory: Tith a centuries-long history of aerial photography and transporting military messages during both world wars, which originally gave DuQuesnoy the idea for the project in the first place.

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There’s a moment where you might feel bad about a company forcibly sending these pollution-sniffing pigeons into hazardous airspace. But this is the atmosphere we’re all sucking in everyday, regardless of whether you’re human or bird.

[Gizmodo UK]


Image: Pigeon Air Patrol

Contact the author at darren.orf@gizmodo.com