Crows are certainly clever creatures, with a history of bringing girls gifts, understanding analogies and using tools, some scientists they believe their intelligence may even rival that of apes. So could we employ these brainy birds to help keep our streets clean? That's the idea behind a project from Dutch startup Crowded Cities, which is looking to train crows to scoop up the butts in exchange for treats.

Cigarette butts are a problem everywhere, but the primary focus of Holland's Crowded Cities' is its motherland, where it says six billion are dropped on streets every year. And clever crows could be just the folks for the job, with the team crafting a win-win system whereby the birds roam cities on the lookout for discarded butts and receive something in return for their troubles.

That's the idea, anyway, and the approach isn't as crazy as it sounds. Part of the team's inspiration is the work of American technologist Joshua Klein, whose 2008 Ted Talk described a crow vending machine that trained the birds to collect coins and exchange them for peanuts.

Crowded Cities uses a similar approach. It is developing a device called a Crowbar, which is basically a feeding mechanism for birds. They first bring a cigarette butt to the Crowbar and drop it into a funnel. A camera then confirms that the item is in fact a butt and the system spits out a little food onto a platform, repaying the crow for its efforts and kicking off what is hoped to be a fruitful relationship.

Building the system and then actually training the crows to use it are of course different things, but with 98 percent of cigarette butts made up of plastic fibers and taking up to 10 years to decompose, it is certainly a neat idea. Crowded Cities says all the components of its Crowbar system are functioning and, once assembled, it will start testing it with crows.

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