Tech UPTechnologyThe 'smart homes' of Disney swallows

The 'smart homes' of Disney swallows

The nests of the purple swallows, the largest species of swallow in North America, have found their home near Orlando in cozy nests designed specifically for them in the leisure park. Developed by Disney and Microsoft, the smart nests are shaped like a pumpkin and equipped with environmental sensors and high-resolution cameras that analyze never-before-seen details of the life of the endangered purple swallows.

Purple swallows are incredible and agile ”, says Dr. Jason Fischer, head of Disney’s conservation program. “They are only 20 cm long, but that does not prevent them from flying almost 10,000 km from Orlando to the Brazilian Amazon and coming back year after year.” “In addition, they build their nests in cavities or holes, so until now we could not easily observe what their family life is like in privacy . What happens in their nests was a mystery ”. 

To learn more about the life of purple swallows, Disney and Microsoft built the “smart houses,” which were added to a colony of pumpkin-shaped birdhouses placed on different posts in the park. In total there are eleven resorts for the swallows in the Leisure park in Orlando.

The white mailbox-sized birdhouses are equipped with high-definition cameras and sensors connected to the cloud, making them the smallest smart homes in the world. Using computer vision and the embedded learning library from Microsoft Research and Azure IoT Edge, purple swallows are studied and scientists are automatically given information about their nesting behaviors.

All the technology built into the swallows’ smart homes is able to withstand Florida’s sun, humidity and torrential rains while respecting bird life. To achieve this, each sensor is equipped with a silent fan, and routine temperature tests were carried out on the chambers and other devices to verify that everything was working correctly without destabilizing the environment.

The first phase of the study consisted of a proof of concept to show that cozy nests could be built and, at the same time, equipped with the highest technology. Cameras located near the nests provide high-resolution images of the hatchlings emerging from the eggs or of the parents caring for their chicks. The sensors, meanwhile, monitor temperature, humidity and air pressure during the nesting stage and record each time one of the parents leaves the nest.

Disney researchers, in collaboration with Microsoft, want to improve and build more smart nests to discover the similarities and differences between all swallow families.

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