Backpack-wearing pigeons tweet London air quality readings

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One of the air-patrolling pigeons with its snazzy backpack(Credit: DigitasLBi)

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Wondering what the air quality is like in London? Well, over the next three days, you can ask a pigeon. More specifically, you can tweet your location to 10 pigeons located throughout the city, each one of which is equipped with a lightweight backpack that monitors ozone, nitrogen dioxide and volatile compounds. You'll receive a tweet back, letting you know just how safe it is to breathe the air in your region.

Known as the Pigeon Air Patrol, the project is one of the winning entries of a contest put on by Twitter. It's a collaboration between that company, PR agency DigitasLBi and tech startup Plume Labs – the latter makes the compact air quality sensors, and is planning a larger study with Imperial College London in which 100 human volunteers will wear them like pagers.

The birds being used in the study are domesticated racing pigeons, which return to a home roost every night.

Needless to say, 10 pigeons can't provide that detailed a snapshot of pollution levels in London. Instead, the project is more about getting people to think about the problem.

"Air pollution is a huge environmental health issue, killing nearly 10,000 people every year in London alone," says Plume CEO Romain Lacombe. "Putting air sensors on the back of pigeons goes beyond raising awareness of this problem and helps Londoners understand the impact of pollution in an accessible, tangible and immediate way."

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