The Crows Being Trained to Collect Cigarette Butts

Monday October 30, 2017 Written by garry


Crows are being enlisted by eco-design start-up Crowded Cities to help solve Amsterdam's problem with cigarette litter (and by problem, we're talking six billion filters tossed onto Dutch streets every year). For those alarmed that some Hitchcockian bird-army is being trained, fear not; the design team are simply planning to teach individual crows to do the on-the-ground work of collecting via a rewards-based system. Then they're basically hoping the birds will recruit their mates to get in on the action, and the radical litter collection initiative will take off from there.

The designers have created a contraption which they've dubbed the Crowbar. It's a station for the crows to drop off their collected cigarette butts. A built-in camera can identify whether the litter is a bona fide cigarette butt, presumably to avoid crows rorting the system and dropping any old thing in there. If it is, the crows get a tasty treat as a reward. 

So – will it work? The success of the project hinges on the intelligence of crows and their willingness to spread the message to others once they’ve figured the Crowbar shtick out. That shouldn’t be too hard considering many believe crows to be as smart as apes. There are others precedents that suggest the Crowbar could really fly, with the Crowded Cities team citing the success of a crow coin-collection invention – called Crowbox – as inspiration.

Let’s just hope the crows don’t develop a nicotine addiction in the process. Of course, to really get to the butt of the problem, once this idea has taken off there's no reason why the crows couldn't develop the smarts to take a more proactive approach. Instead of just hopping around and waiting for a butt to maybe drop on the ground, they could swoop in for a pre-emptive strike and pluck the cigarette out of someone's mouth – or straight from the packet – before the drop occurs. In which case, maybe The Birds would start to congregate en masse around al fresco cafes and cigarette kiosks. That'd be a win-win for the anti-smoking lobby and the environmentalists. Not so much for any innocent bystanders who get caught up in the frenzied flapping fray. 

Read more about the Crowded Cities project here

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Images: Crowded Cities