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Indiana State University Students Build Sensor-Based System to Scare Crows

When the crows return to campus this fall, a group of technology students believe their product - Scarecrow Inc.'s ShockTrainer 9000 - could be the silver bullet for keeping the birds at bay.

The students - seniors Heath Harris, Lacrisha Clinton, Will Kimble and James Conners and junior Ramsey Hayes - learned through initial research showed that a variety of systems are employed in different places to scare crows, but the methods are usually ineffective and annoying to humans, said Hayes, an information technology major.

"The goal of our project was to come up with an alternative to try to make things easier for everybody," he said. "We had to learn to brainstorm as a team. It's easy to brainstorm by yourself but when you have five brains you have to collaborate. We also had to create a user's manual, video of project in action and a PowerPoint presentation."

The group didn't want to use loud blasts because that only annoys people on campus.

"Instead, once our sensor is tripped by a crow or other animal, there will be the sound of a crow barking like a warning or distress call to alert the crows that are around," Harris said. "We give them time to land on the roof ledge then a laser light will shine on the ledge of the roof because laser lights have been shown to scare the crows. While that's happening, the crows will hear a loud predator sound, which will be the sound of a hawk screeching."

If crows still lands on the roof's ledge, Clinton said a hawk screeching would sound and the electrified grid would deliver a harmless shock to the crow. She added that the group would like to implement in the device the use of shiny objects, or crow effigies, ultrasonic frequencies that have also been known to work in scaring crows.

"We discovered that crows are very intelligent and they have facial recognition, but what was really important to learn for our purposes is that they are very communicative and community-based, so we wanted to use this to our advantage," she said. "If we keep one crow off campus they, in turn, communicate that to other crows in the community."

The students, with the help of an instructor Edie Wittenmyer, created the device using a system from Arduino - a software company, project and user community that designs and manufactures computer open-source hardware and software and microcontroller-based kites for building devices and interactive objects that sense and control physical devices.

"This group seemed to have it together when they were working in the classroom, and they showed professionalism throughout the semester and they brought it to the project," Wittenmyer said. "I hope all of the students gleaned from this project that it's not about any individual when you're working on a project. You're assigned to work with someone and you have to get the work done, so keep your eye on the goal."

During their research on crows, the group met with Indiana State psychology professor Eric Anderson, who talked with the students about psychology and adverse conditioning.

"It really helped to give extra ideas for training the crows and getting something that would scare them initially and keep them away," Kimble said. "Then we were ready to start wiring and building our product and we had to get our motion sensor working with the speaker circuit. We decided, along with Professor Anderson, that the crow barking sound and the predatory sound would make it more effective, so we decide to incorporate an SD card reader.

"We also decided to add an electrical grid to shock the crows and give them another adverse condition, so there was a lot of research into how we were going to make it. We had some struggles creating the grid but it came through."

Harris said the total cost producing the project, as it is now, is a little over $80 and the selling price would be around $150, depending on the size of the grid. The students also determined the product must be able to withstand changing weather conditions and durable enough to be knocked around a little bit. It also needed to be non-lethal and play sound, which was a project requirement.

The group started the project with speaker testing. Once that was working and they have their sensor to detect motion, light and sound, they incorporated a laser light and get grid to shock the crows.

In the future, Conners said the project could be improved upon with incorporating louder sound, better construction of the grid and increasing power.

"Our idea is to make the device solar power because it will get a good amount of sun and the only cost you will have is the initial cost of buying the product," he said.

Two of Clinton's big hurdles with the project were the grid construction and the fact that the product poses harm to all birds that land on it, not just crows.

"At one point, I was trying to glue the wires individually about a quart-inch apart and it was very time-consuming and in the end the product was so unappealing the birds didn't land on it," she said. "Using the same wires, I sewed them through the same material you see on ironing boards and it was a little tedious and had to have help keeping the wires straight. Ideally, in the future, I want to use conductive thread that is easier to do and will allow it to be produced quicker."

While ironing out the kinds in the physical product, there will need to be quality marketing behind it if it is to make it on the market.

"It was also hard to test because you can't test it in a classroom and we didn't get roof access from Indiana State," Kimble said. "It's also a product that people may not take very seriously, so I think we need more public advertisement and let people know our product is serious and could be beneficial."


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