There are more than 4.5 trillion cigarette butts thrown on the ground around the world each year. 98 percent of these butts are made from plastics like cellulose acetate that take more than 10 years to break down. The cleanup of cigarette butts is difficult as they are dispersed across urban areas and can be moved into difficult to reach areas by wind and rain. But a Dutch startup thinks they have the answer. And the answer is crows.
Ruben van der Vleuten and Bob Spikman are outraged about the amount of cigarette butts thrown on the ground in cities, but they have the answer to fix the problem. They want to train a generation of crows to pick them all up. The two designers have established the startup called Crowded Cities and their first product, is the Crowbar. Essentially an autonomous training device, the Crowbar awards crows with food after they have delivered a cigarette butt into the receptacle.
Crows Have Excellent Memory
Researchers in Seattle wanted to test crows' memory, but got much more than they bargained for. After capturing seven crows, they tagged them and then released the crows, which they had forced to wear markers. Every time the scientists walked around campus the crows dive-bomb the scientists. But it wasn’t just the captured crows who sought revenge, every crow in the area knew who to target. Proving the crows both have amazing memory and communicate very effectively.
One incredible skill they have that puts them above their average animal counterparts is their ability to make tools to help them access food. In the wild, they have been known to strip leaves off branches to make a narrow enough stick to scrape bugs out of holes and it gets even more creative in a limited lab environment.
In one experiment crows were left with a variety of materials and some very difficult to access food. The crow bent the end of a wire using the edge of a glass then used that hook to retrieve a longer stick that then enabled it to reach for the food. This is astoundingly complex problem solving for an animal that has been dismissed as the omen of death. If the Crowbar does get up and running, we can expect some closer contact with crows and much cleaner cities. A win on both counts.