WTF Fun Fact 13307 – Project Pigeon

During World War II, the United States government developed a program to train pigeons to guide missiles to their targets. This program was known as Project Pigeon or Project Orcon. It was developed by psychologist B.F. Skinner and was intended to provide an alternative to radio-controlled guidance systems, which were vulnerable to jamming and interference.

Using animals in technology

The idea behind Project Pigeon was simple: Skinner would train pigeons to peck at a target on a screen, and their pecking guided a missile to its target. To prove this, Skinner trained the pigeons to associate the target with food and were able to peck accurately and consistently, even under stressful conditions.

The military ultimately discontinued the program in favor of other guidance systems. But the concept of using animals to guide technology has continued to be a topic of interest and research in modern times. Today, researchers are exploring the use of trained animals such as dogs, rats, and even bees to detect and respond to various stimuli, including explosives, drugs, and diseases.

What was Project Pigeon?

During World War II, the United States government needed to develop an effective guidance system for missiles and other weapons. Radio-controlled systems had proved vulnerable to jamming and interference, and researchers were eager to explore alternative approaches.

Psychologist BF Skinner believed that he could train animals to guide missiles to their targets. His idea was based on the principle of operant conditioning, which he had developed through his work with laboratory animals.

The basic idea behind Skinner’s approach was to train pigeons to associate a target on a screen with the release of food. He then placed the pigeons in the nose of a missile, where they would peck at the target on the screen. This would send signals to the missile’s guidance system and steer it toward its target.

Skinner’s idea eventually received support from the military. The military developed it into a program known as Project Pigeon or Project Orcon. They trained of hundreds of pigeons, housing them in special compartments in the nose of the missile.

While the program never saw actual use in combat, it did succeed in demonstrating the potential of animal-guided technology.

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Source: “B.F. Skinner’s Pigeon-Guided Rocket” — Smithsonian Magazine

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