Could crows be the solution to the scourge of cigarette butt litter? Well, they’re are smart enough to clean our streets, as long as we pay them. Now, a device called CrowBar hopes to do just that.
Crows are some of the smartest animals in the world. Crows are skilled problem solvers. They are capable of complex thought, and able to create and use tools. While this makes crows the bane of farmers everywhere, it also means we could harness their abilities for the greater good of our planet.
Take, for example, the scourge of cigarette butts. Many cities are covered with discarded cigarette butts, and the carcinogens and toxic chemicals inside them are very unhealthy. But they’re so small, so numerous, and discarded so frequently that picking them all up is a Sisyphean task.
That’s why one startup is turning to crows. Dutch company Crowded Cities is developing a device that will train crows to collect discarded cigarette butts in exchange for peanuts. They’re creating a low-cost solution to a problem that’s just too inconvenient for people to solve effectively on their own.
The device is called CrowBar, and is based on a design created by an American inventor. The device has a large funnel for depositing cigarette butts, and a dispenser for giving the crows treats. Hopefully, trained crows will fly all over the city looking for cigarette butts. They’ll then drop them into the machine and get our streets a little cleaner.
How CrowBar works:
CrowBar works by training crows with a proven four-step process. First, the machine presents a piece of food next to a cigarette butt on a small platform. This trains the crow to expect food from the machine. Second, the machine starts dispensing the food only after the crow arrives at the machine. This teaches the crow how the machine operates.
Third, the machine presents only the cigarette butt with no food. The crow is confused and starts looking around for the food, and inadvertently knocks the butt into the receptacle, dispensing a food pellet. The final step is to remove the cigarette butt entirely, leaving a few scattered on the ground around the CrowBar. The crow will start collecting butts from the surrounding area and bringing them to the machine, and the training is complete.
The Crowded Cities team is in the process of building a working prototype, at which point they’ll test their design to see if it works as well as they think it will. They’ll also be interested in how this impacts the crows, since building dependency and collecting toxic cigarette butts can’t be great for them. But if the machine works as well as expected, and the crows don’t suffer too much because of it, we might start seeing CrowBars in cities around the world, and a lot fewer cigarette butts as a result.