Would An Augmented Pigeon Be A Drone?

The other day I had this strange thought while doing the cat boxes. I find that my mind wanders off into the most interesting places when I’m doing something I’d rather not pay much attention to. Like harvesting the waste products of tame carnivores … but I digress.

The current laws regarding flying Drones in my country, Canada, are fairly restrictive. Some simple legal requirements are show stoppers for certain categories of business ideas.

  • The operator must have line of sight to the drone. They must literally be able to see it. So no flying it out of sight.
  • The drone is going to NOT be autonomous. IT must be remotely piloted.
  • The drone must NOT fly over populated areas without a flight plan being okayed first.

Ok … try this on for size.

Pigeons are possibly man’s oldest companion animal. I’ve heard convincing arguments for this. They are Rock Doves and what does Man do where ever Man spreads? Man makes new Cliff faces, buildings, which Pigeons find pleasing.

And Man has a long standing relationship with them. (aside from eating the Passenger Pigeon out of existence) There’s the Homing Pigeon. We’ve been using Homing Pigeons for 3,000 years …

There is some thinking that they have some way to detect the Earth’s magnetic field and utilize that information to help them guide their path back to ‘home’. Cool. Remember that – magnetic sensitivity.

Then there’s their appearance as trainable subjects in psychology studies. We know a lot about them and we know they can be trained … keep that in mind.

The other day I saw a video that was taken by a camera system strapped to the back of an Eagle. The Eagle then was released from the top of the tallest building in the world.

The instrumentation package weighed in something just right for the large bird.

The trainer was standing down on the ground giving arm signals to the bird.

Okay … with all that preceding info in mind this is what popped up:

Imagine a small enough rig that has GPS, Imaging and Control instrumentation and could fit onto a Pigeon. A small skull cap with an array of controllable magnetic field sections to relay a ‘sense-able stimulation’ to the bird. The signals for that come from an on-board computer that is trying to get the bird to follow a per-arranged flight plan, using GPS info to match against and sending ‘steering signals’ to get the bird to ‘correct’ its flight. All the while images are being captured.

So if you could build such a thing, train the birds, set them loose and run surveillance pathswould you then be operating ‘drones’?

It might sound like Science Fiction but … we live in a world where Game consoles use 3D mapping visual sensors. Soon your Cell phones will use the same technology. So Pigeons could be ‘scanned’ and cap designs could be easily modified in software to custom fit and then printed in 3D printers.

The inevitable march of technology tells us that the instrumentation will eventually be that compact and powerful. It only has to run for a few minutes at a time … maybe the power could be recovered from the pigeon’s flapping? Oh well, it would not need to run for long in many applications.

Unlike man-made drones the basic Pigeon Platform comes with autonomous flight operations built in and fine tuned over millions of years of field testing.

And you wouldn’t actually be hurting the birds. IF they can sense magnetic fields you would not even have to drill into their heads …

Crazy or what?


Grants In Aid

The city council in my town has struggled with how to do funding of groups in the community that need help.

In the past I’ve seen city council go down list and wrestle with which group gets how much money. And I’ve seen them try to distance themselves from the process by funding a foundation that doles out money and develop a Fee-For-Service agreement with some of the entities.

Needless to say this does not satisfy everyone (an unattainable goal in the real world) and some point out that the city is shirking it’s responsibility and turning it over to an unelected body with possibly less accountability than an elected one.

This conversation has popped up again.

While I haven’t been participating I have been paying some attention. And this evening I had an idea …

How’s this for an idea:

Create a section on the city’s website for Grants In Aid.

Each group or project that requires funding puts together a package that explains who they are, what they do, how much they want, why they need it / what they will do with it.

The city puts up an explanation of how this works and how much they have budgeted for G-I-A.

At a predetermined start date this all goes live.

Everyone who pays taxes can use their tax roll # as a log in ID. Or some ID that came with their tax package. Or they get the log in code once they pay their taxes. The idea being that only those who actually pay taxes get to participate since it’s their money being spent.

Once they log into the system using that code they are presented with a list of requests to study. And they get to allocate how much of the funds they would give to each request until all the money is used up. Then they press the Submit button. (ok maybe a submit button might be redundant) They can come back again and revise their figures any time they want.

This goes on for a period of time, say 3 months. At the end of that period the site no longer accepts log ins.

Now the city has a set of figures from the taxpayers showing their desires regarding GIA funding. How they deal with that could be up to them or, if the councillors would prefer, could be directly determined from the results.

For instance the allocations from all the taxpayers on any given request could be averaged to come up with a figure. I can’t say that this would result in a sum that works out to the GIA fund but it would show which requests hold the most importance to taxpayers who feed the fund.

One possibilty: all the averages, A1, A2, A3 … to An could be added up to get a total, let’s call that Tavg. Then each request’s average could be converted into the ratio Ra of Tavg that it represents. That way all the fractions would add up to 1. And then the individual fractions would be fractions of the total GIA fund.


Let’s say the GIA fund is GIAF=$100,000

Let’s say that there are 6 requests (I know that’s a low, low number but it makes the example easier).

And let’s say the averages are A1=22,000; A2=15,300; A3=7,500; A4=11,400; A5=56,000; A6=37,400

GIAF      $100,000.00

Request Average Ratio Fractions (in dollars)
A1 $22,000.00 0.147058824 $14,705.88
A2 $15,300.00 0.102272727 $10,227.27
A3 $7,500.00 0.05013369 $5,013.37
A4 $11,400.00 0.076203209 $7,620.32
A5 $56,000.00 0.374331551 $37,433.16
A6 $37,400.00 0.25 $25,000.00
Totals $149,600.00 1 $100,000.00

I’m not saying that this would satisfy everyone but it would give city council a way to put the allocations at arm’s length with the values determined by the taxpayers.

Maybe it’s an oddball idea – I have lots of those. Maybe it would be difficult to explain. A way to give those taxpayers that don’t do the Web would have to be provided. Software would have to be written.

But everything needs work to make it function.

Just a thought.


In shopping this idea around I’ve had some feedback.
One point made was regarding ‘gaming the system’.

Let’s say everyone in a particular group gave all the money to that group’s request. And got all their friends and neighbours to do the same. How would the rest of the community feel about that?

Well the community at large would likely be unhappy and, I’d hope, that they would then make their unhappiness known (and felt) to the group that gamed away the money.
Unfortunately it would also result in people pushing council to give up on the idea … and that would be unfortunate.

So – How can we make it relatively impervious to being gamed?

I’ve thought out various ploys but I keep coming back to the basic requirement that the system be simple enough that most people, as close to everyone as possible, can understand it. Because if it is understandable it is not scary. If they are not afraid of it they won’t be so quick to reject or distrust it.

This is important because when you start coming up with new ‘rules’ and ‘twists’ to try to close possible loopholes you do two things: You make it harder to understand AND you create a loophole that a clever person can find and exploit. So once that loophole gets found you add a new ‘rule’ to cover that but inadvertently create another new loophole. Eventually you have a system that only a scholar or lawyer can understand and no one really trusts anymore. Which is what we are trying to get away from …

So instead of trying to prevent the situation above from being possible I suggest that the reward for that behavior be reduced.

There is no way anyone can Surf (in water) here so I’ll pick that sport as an example that shouldn’t offend anyone locally.

In the first version of the idea the Surfers’s Waveriders Club could game the system and get the lion’s share of the the GIA Fund for their new clubhouse. And the rest of the community would be angry but so what – the surfers get their clubhouse funded.

What if the GIA Fund was split into a GIA-Recreation portion, GIA-Social Service portion, GIA-Arts/Culture/History portion and a GIA-Miscellaneous portion and any given group or project could only ask for funds in one category?

That way the surfers could still game the system but they’d only be hogging the largest share of the GIA-Recreation portion. None of the GIA-Social Service money could go to them. Nor any other the money from the other GIA fund portions.

So people in town would still get angry with them but the amount of money they’re getting in return would be smaller.

How the various portion sizes would be determined might be something left to council or possibly derived from public input, it’s not the main point of this idea.

And while this modification doesn’t prevent some group from ’gaming the system’ it maintains simplicity and understandability. If the system is live, transparently giving ‘final results’ as input is posted, continuously used and discussed during it’s ‘live period’ then there are numerous benefits.

  • It engages the population in an aspect of civics that they should be paying more attention to – how their tax dollars support the community.
  • It increases the communication and attention between the elected body and those who elected them.
  • It makes democracy more participative.
  • It makes a tax related part of government transparent and understandable.

The only other thing that comes to mind right now is the ‘Miscellaneous’ portion.

  • Would it lead to specious requests because there’s money there?
  • Should that portion be allowed to have its money thrown at some other project in some other category if there are no desirable requests in ‘miscellaneous’ from an individual tax payers point of view.

So it’s an evolving concept …