Dutch Company Wants to Train Crows to Pick Up Cigarette Butts

Pollution in the form of garbage on city streets is a major problem in cities worldwide. Discarded cigarette butts make up a large portion of this street rubbish as more than 4.5 trillion of them are thrown out every year. These cigarette remains then go on to contaminate the environment with toxic chemicals and carcinogens.

Aside from hiring people to sweep them up, a tedious and expensive task, what can be done to rid the world of these pollutants?

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A Dutch start-up called Crowded Cities thinks they have the solution to this disgusting problem, and it is rather interesting. They have figured out that they can train crows to collect these cigarette butts.

The company is developing a device that they believe will be able to train crows to pick up discarded cigarette butts in exchange for peanuts or other food treats. They call the device CrowBar. It consists of a funnel, in which the crows will drop the butts, and a dispenser that will give treats to the birds.

Since crows are one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, Crowded Cities believes they can train the birds using a simple four-step process.

First, the CrowBar presents food and a cigarette butt on a platform. This trains the crow to expect food from the machine. Then, the machine switches to dispensing food only when the crow arrives at it. This teaches the bird how the machine works. Third, the CrowBar presents a butt but no food. When the bird inevitably starts looking for the food, it should knock the cigarette butt into the funnel, and a treat will be dispensed. In the final step of training, cigarette butts will be scattered on the ground near the machine. The birds should then figure out that putting the butts in the CrowBar will result in them getting a food reward. This should then lead the crows to scour the city looking for cigarette butts they can exchange for food.

The company has not yet tested the machine on crows, but they hope to have a working prototype soon. If it works, it could literally cost peanuts to start cleaning up the streets in the cities of the world.

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