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Gathering Pennies From Heaven

Counting CrowsOne of the most inspired and dynamic presentations at Gadgetoff 2007 featured Josh Klein’s “Crow Vending Machine.”  Klein, a graduate student at NYU and long-time creative hacker,  is training crows to gather loose change  in exchange for peanuts. Crows, part of the family of Corvids (which include ravens, jays, and other highly-adaptable passerine birds) are largely reviled as flying rodents. But Klein envisions a new symbiotic relationship between these intelligent birds and the humans that encroach on their habitat.
Klein has designed a method of training crows to pick up found coins and exchange them in a box-like device for a peanut reward. The splendor of the concept unifies two facts: crows like shiny objects and more than $215 million dollars in coins are lost each year in the U.S. Why not turn a long-standing rivalry between man and crow into something that profits both species? Klein’s Crow Vending Machine device uses a four-step behavior modification training technique to get crows to ultimately find and deliver coins for a reward of peanuts.
It is entertaining to imagine a scene from Hitchcock in which swarms of ravens descend en masse aggressively wrestling coins from the hands of panic-stricken city-dwellers. But Klein has a more exquisite vision of inter-species cooperation: before coin-collecting, he envisioned having crows gather trash instead. Klein’s research and thought-process in creating the Crow Vending machine is wonderful. For more information, read his thesis and view his Gadgetoff presentation.


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