Dutch Startup Using Crows To Clean Cigarette Litter

It’s more than likely that we call groups of ravens an unkindness due to their unforgiving intelligence. A Swedish experiment training birds to earn food rewards had one raven hacking the project entirely. The thoughtful budgie even took the time to teach other birds the secret. Now, startup Crowded Cities is testing the brainpower of crows, using them to pick up litter.

The idea is to train the crows to drop cigarette butts in a ‘Crowbar,’ which scans the item to confirm it’s a cigarette butt, and then gives the crow a food reward to reinforce the behavior.

Considering the amount of cigarette butts that end up on sidewalks annually (about 4.5 trillion), these crows could make a difference. The butts are not only non-biodegradable, but toxic to marine life. For ultimate efficiency, the Crowbar uses a simple give-and-take mechanism.

[Everything] is done with the intention that the crow will fly away and inform others of this system, so that more crows participate in cigarette butt collecting.

Research has found that crows are as cognitive as apes, so the success of the Crowbar should be anticipated.

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Satellites Capture Massive Penguin Colony

Penguins are adorable, and that isn’t ever up for debate. Even political bodies such as the Chilean government would agree. Ultimately, they did snub a billion-dollar mining project to save the flightless birds. However, populations are on the rocky side — or so we thought. Cruising over the Antarctic Peninsula, NASA satellites captured a 1.5 million fleet of penguins.

“The sheer size of what we were looking at took our breath away,” [said] co-author Heather Lynch, Ph.D… “We thought, ‘Wow! If what we’re seeing is true, these are going to be some of the largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world, and it’s going to be well worth our while sending in an expedition to count them properly.”

Drones captured roughly 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins, which isn’t even the most NASA has ever tallied. It’s only the third or fourth. In the last 60 years, sea ice levels and concentrations caused population drops. Apparently, the feisty fledglings are adapting.

“The size of these colonies makes them regionally important and makes the case for expanding the proposed Weddell Sea Marine Protected Area to include the Danger Islands,” [said] co-author Michael Polito, Ph.D.

What’s that I hear? A lot of happy feet stomping on cool ice up in Antarctica!

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Mexico Creates World’s Largest Marine Reserve

To prevent passersby having to rescue beached whales, activists are looking for ways to better protect marine life. Some are turning to lab-grown meat to combat overfishing, while others are dealing with poachers up front. Determined to keep their own Revillagigedo Islands afloat, Mexico is placing 57,000 square miles under protection.

“It’s an important place biologically for megafauna, kind of superhighway, if you will, for sharks, manta rays, whales and turtles,” [said] Matt Rand, director of the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project… “It’s a pretty biologically spectacular location.”

Altogether, the islands are home to 366 species of fish, as well as a vast number of plants and birds. Though fishing villages have expressed concern, conservationists have assured that the reserve will help catch populations to quickly rise.

“We have a long way to go,” [Rand] says. “But there’s been incredible growth in the concept of large-scale marine protected areas. It’s almost becoming a race. Hopefully it’s starting to snowball.”

To conserve ecosystems, at least 30% of the ocean must remain untouched. I’d say 57,000 square miles is a pretty good start.

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Microsoft Teaching Motor-less Plane To Fly

At the rate technology is advancing, we can teach machines to do almost anything. From programming drones to plant trees to manufacturing a robot that can detect water pollution, gadgets have become more capable than ever. But can we train a device to rely entirely on nature? Microsoft is teaching this motor-less plane to fly just like a bird.

The researchers have found that through a complex set of AI algorithms, they can get their 16 1/2-foot, 12 1/2-pound aircraft to soar much like a hawk would, by identifying things like air temperature and wind direction to locate thermals — invisible columns of air that rise due to heat.

The plane is one of the only AI systems to act based on predictions it makes. In a nutshell, it is is akin to a simple thinking being.

“Birds do this seamlessly, and all they’re doing is harnessing nature. And they do it with a peanut-sized brain,”

If successful, the planes could be implemented in farming and providing internet connections to remote areas. If cars can drive themselves, planes can follow in their tread marks.

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Intelligent Raven Outsmarts Researchers

Never underestimate the intellectual capacity of an animal. Just like us, they do what they can to get what they want. This intelligent raven was removed from an experiment by hacking it completely and teaching other ravens the secret.

In this study, researchers from Lund University in Sweden trained ravens to use a simple machine where they dropped a rock in a tube to earn a food reward. 86 percent managed to successfully use [the rocks] to open the machine.

One raven in the experiment figured out how to work their rock/box contraption first, then began teaching the method to other ravens, and finally invented its own way of doing it. Instead of dropping a rock to release a treat, the [raven] constructed a layer of twigs in the tube, and pushed another stick down through the layer to force it open.

This bird is certainly winning at life. Researchers can understand this behavior in apes. They are, ultimately, our closest animal relatives. But these ravens are proving that other species can be just as sharp-witted.

“It’s an independent evolution of complex cognition, which is a fascinating idea, because it shows that evolution sometimes likes to rerun good solutions. In this case, it’s planning skills,”

I’ve got to hand it to these birds. Their ability to think ahead is truly evolution at its best.

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