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Pigeon tops broadband in data transfer

pigeonYet more proof that technology is for the birds: Carrier pigeons are being used to transfer data between offices because bosses believe it is quicker than broadband.

Computer experts at a South African firm said it took six hours to transfer four gigabytes of encrypted data to a call center 50 miles away.

Unlimited Group, a financial services company, yesterday attached a memory card to the leg of a pigeon called Winston who took just over an hour for the trip, according to the Daily Mail.

Even counting the time needed to upload the data once it arrives, the information shipped by pigeon took under three hours, less than half of what using the Internet — at least in Durban, South Africa — could accomplish.

“It might sound crazy in this day and age, but we’re always looking for new ways to move our business forward and we think this might just work,” said Kevin Rolfe, head of  Unlimited Group. “For years we’ve struggled with the internet as a method of communication. It’s fine for emails and correspondence, but we need to transfer a lot of data from office to another and find it often lets us down.”

To send four gigabytes of encrypted information takes around six hours on a good day, he said, up to two days if the weather is bad and the service goes down.

“We started looking at other ways to solve the problem and discovered that carrier pigeons could do the job a lot more quickly.”

“If Winston can do the job as efficiently then we’d be silly not to think about using him instead — especially as he’ll only cost us a little of bird seed to run,” Rolfe added.


Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time September 10, 2009 at 1:03 pm

OK, geek warning here.

Pigeons have a long and honorable Internet tradition; in fact, it dates back to 1990 when a fellow named Waitzman authored a “A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers.” The memo was written in the form of a standard Internet request for comment (RFC). You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so inclined: http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc1149.html.

In 2001, a group actually used pigeons to send a “ping” command, one of the most elementary network interactions. One computer on a network “pings” another, which essentially sends back a packet that says, “Yeah. I’m here.” The necessary data was printed, tied to a pigeon’s leg, er transmitted, and transferred to the receiving computer via optical character recognition (OCR). The process was then reversed. It’s said that Linus Torvalds, father of the Linux operating system, was part of the group that did this.

According to somebody on Slashdot a couple of weeks ago, there is a group that is actually putting pigeons to good use for data transmission. It’s a Grand Canyon expedition company that leads whitewater rafting trips down the Colorado. They tie a data stick with each day’s photographs to a pigeon, which takes it back to headquarters so the pictures can be printed and ready when the rafters return to home base.

I hope the people in South Africa are making backups of their backups. I understand that it’s possible to experience 100% data loss with this method–all you have to do is lose a pigeon.

Comment from 1800PetMeds Blog
Time September 12, 2009 at 9:14 am

That is an interesting read. It’s quite ironical considering the advances in technology – and it all boils down to resorting to conventional methods 🙂