Monday, March 03, 2008

Corvid commerce

This is a vending machine for crows. Using Skinnerian behavioral training, its inventor, Joshua Klein, taught crows to drop coins into a chute to receive a peanut in exchange.

Crows and other corvids, like ravens and jays, are pretty smart and logical critters . The training for the vending machine involved putting coins and peanuts side by side on the tray. When a crow accidentally swept a coin down the chute, more peanuts would appear. Klein eventually took away the peanuts so that the crows had to deliver coins that they found themselves in exchange for the snack.

According to Klein, the average rate of return is 6.8 cents per deposit, and there are $250 million worth of change lost annually in the United States (is this true? That would be about 20 billion lost coins every year). He's also looking into the possibility of using a similar machine to use crows to collect trash, or find lost jewelry.

Crows are sometimes considered pests, since they're so abundant, particularly in and around cities. But the crow vending machine proves otherwise: they're smart birds, and they'll work for peanuts.

Here's a video in which Klein explains his invention.

Link: Crow Vending Machine

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