A new birdhouse comes with solar panels and a 3G connection—not because the birds inside are on Twitter, but because the tiny house doubles as a smoke alarm. If there's a forest fire, the electronics inside the birdhouse can send a signal, complete with GPS coordinates, to local firefighters.
The prototype birdhouses are being tested in Spain, where dozens of wildfires burned tens of thousands of acres in 2015, destroying both wild areas and homes. As fires become even more common—driven by more intense heat waves and climate change—Generali, a Spanish insurance company, wanted to help fund a better solution for detection. Because a remote fire might not be noticed immediately, it can end up spreading more quickly.
This isn't the first use of remote sensors to detect wildfires. But designers from Ogilvy & Mather came up with the idea of housing the sensors along with birds. "The idea was to create a product that coexisted with its environment in a natural way, providing a benefit," says Pouline Atencio, an art director in Ogilvy's Madrid office who worked on the design.
The birdhouse is weatherproof, and the electronic portion is also bird-proof. "The house has two compartments—an upper one where the bird lives, with its entry and plenty of space, fully separated from the sensor so the bird can't damage it," says Atencio. Inside a lower compartment, there's a rechargeable battery, 3G sim card, and an Arduino.
It might be cute, but it could also make a difference in helping stop fires faster. "The sensor can detect smoke in a 20-meter radius," she says. "That way we can protect large areas, especially areas of major ecological interest. Each house is geolocated, so it's possible to know exactly where the fire is starting, minimizing the response time. The less time elapses, the more chances to extinguish the fire on time with minimal environmental consequences."
Generali is also hoping to bring the birdhouse to other parts of the world.