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Florida Agriculture Students Give Scarecrow Digital Brain

Crows have probably never been very scared of the stiff, human-looking bags of stuffing put up in cornfields. But a new generation of scarecrow might be a little more effective.

Finally, the scarecrow has a brain.

Students at the University of South Florida have created a scarecrow that foregoes the old straw brain for a head stuffed with sophisticated sensors and computer parts.

Erebus, the smart scarecrow, was designed not for a cornfield, actually, but to frighten away birds that would prey on fish in commercial aquatic farms.

"Aquaculture, also known as fish farming, is a vital part of the world's fish production and a $40 million business in Florida," said Ken Christensen, a professor of computer science who led the work. "The outdoor farms are susceptible to predator birds. The students' intelligent scarecrow is designed to benefit farmers while protecting predator birds — many of which are protected species — from harm."

Erebus detects motion and then images the scene. Its micro-PC, an eBox, processes the imagery to distinguish between real intruders (the birds) and non-threatening objects such as farmers.

Fish farmers around the world might soon be exchanging their blue overalls for orange outfits; Erebus has been trained to leave bright orange things alone.

It can blast the sound of a gunshot at 120 decibels or spray the birds with an annoying but harmless sprinkler system. Erebus is also a tattletale: It reports the intrusion by email or cell phone.

"The Erebus Scarecrow is not just another motion-detector," said student Albert Ng. "He is capable of intelligent detection, deterrence and can also record the events."

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