Old, Weird Tech: Dr. Neubronner's Patented Miniature Pigeon Camera

Julius_Neubronner_with_pigeon_and_camera_1914.jpg
Innovation happens on the margins of our world's knowledge and tools, in the place Steven Johnson has popularized as "the adjacent possible." We tend to focus on this space when looking at the major innovations, how so-and-so used existing technologies to make something fundamentally new. But out there at the margins of tech, lots of things get tried and have some success. Take Dr. Julius Neubronner's combination of three very different technologies: the homing pigeon, the newly miniaturized roll-film camera, and the timer.

The mechanisms were simple. A camera with a pneumatic timing mechanism was attached to a bird with a cute little harness. Then, the bird was released, and every so often, the timer would go off, and a puff of compressed air would trigger the exposure. The birds had a range of something like 60 miles, which meant they could get substantial coverage (albeit not if enemy lines were neatly drawn).

The heyday for carrier pigeon photography was definitely World War I, in which Neubronner brought his birds to the battles of Verdun and Somme. The Spy Museum in Washington, DC has a room dedicated to the surveillance service the birds rendered.

Pigeon_photographers_and_aerial_photographs.jpg


Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In