People that think the world is your ashtray, shame on you. Why do I have to look at your left over butts all over the place? You can’t like seeing that either, can you? So stop it. I wish is was that easy to get folks to stop, but instead a couple of designers are turning to crows to clean up.
Alarmed by how many cigarette butts littered the parks of Amsterdam, Dutch designers Ruben van der Vleuten and Bob Spikman originally considered using robots to clean the streets of cigarette butts, but they presented a series of difficulties. So they turned their attention to one of the most abundant resources of urban areas – birds. Pigeons were the first ones they considered, because they can be found in virtually every city in the world, but a quick search revealed that they aren’t really that bright, so training them would be very hard. Enter the Crow.
Crows are ranked among the most intelligent species on the planet, and their understanding of causality allows them to plan, create and use tools to achieve their goals. They can learn things by observing their surroundings, manipulate humans into helping them, and some can apparently even count. Crows’ intelligence level is equal to that of chimpanzees, so they were perfect.
The two designers knew that they wanted to train crows to clean cities of discarded cigarette butts, but it wasn’t until they discovered the Crow Box, a project by Joshua Klein, that they realized how to go about doing it. Klein had invented a machine to autonomously train crows to pick up change from the streets and exchange it for peanuts, so if they could be trained to do that, they could definitely pick up cigarette butts as well.
Bob and Ruben are currently looking ways to fund a serious experiment to see how long it takes to train wild crows to pick up cigarette butts for food. Data shows that out of the 6 trillion cigarettes we smoke every year, about two thirds end up in the environment. To put that into perspective, the roughly 4 trillion cigarette butts are enough to fill 2.5 million Olympic swimming pools. I say, put the crows to work!