Pigeons Wearing Backpacks Help Fight Pollution

pigeon pollution london air environment sensor
The 'pigeon air patrol' record the nitrogen dioxide levels produced by London traffic. DigitasLBI

Pigeons are being transformed from urban pests to airborne eco warriors with the help of some miniature high-tech backpacks.

As part of a new initiative to monitor air quality, 10 racing pigeons are being deployed to the skies of London equipped with pollution sensors.

The Pigeon Air Patrol campaign, launched by French technology firm Plume Labs, runs from March 14 to March 16 and allows residents to find out about pollution levels in their area by tweeting their location to the pigeons.

@ADCuthbertson Sorry for the delay! Moderate pollution in your area. Stay Safe: https://t.co/R5YlxFkR65 #PigeonAir

— Pigeon Air Patrol (@PigeonAir) March 15, 2016

The 25 gram backpacks worn by the flock of pigeons measure nitrogen dioxide levels produced by the city's cars, buses and trucks.

"Air pollution is a huge environmental health issue, killing nearly 10,000 people every year in London alone," said Romain Lacombe, chief executive of Plume Labs.

"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."

On Tuesday and Wednesday, pigeons recorded high pollution levels in Westminster, moderate pollution in Victoria Park and "fresh air" in Soho.

"Air pollution isn't sexy and people don't engage with it," said Pierre Duquesnoy, creative director at the consultancy DigitasLBi, which worked with Plume Labs on the initiative. "So the heart of our idea was to make air pollution more accessible and relevant to people.

"The Pigeon Air Patrol is a perfect example of how data combined with creative storytelling can raise awareness of a serious health and environmental issue."