Two inventors hope to put an end to cheating in Taiwan's great annual pigeon races. As described in their patent (8,128,470), which issued last week, the races offer a strong incentive for foul play.
Pigeon racing competition is an annual great event in Taiwan and is famed for its huge purses offered to owners of the winner pigeons. This makes more than thirty-thousand pigeon owners participate in the contest every year . . . . It is thus not hard to expect how tough the competition would be.
The patent is most notable for explaining what is already done to keep pigeon fanciers honest, which involves a mix of high tech and tradition. To begin with, each pigeon is tagged when it is just a chick.
A baby racing pigeon, generally on the sixth day of its birth, is allowed to wear a pigeon ring. . . . After wearing the pigeon ring for one or two months, each racing pigeon must be brought to the pigeon-racing association where the racing pigeon is registered and an electronic data file is established for the pigeon.
The data file for each pigeon includes "feather images," so you can't transfer the ring to another pigeon. Unless the pigeons look the same.
The pigeon ring itself has a wireless RFID tag, like runners wear. A "pigeon clock" registers the pigeon's arrival at the "pigeon camp," i.e. the finish line for that pigeon. A GPS system is built into the pigeon clock. This keeps owners from "illegally relocating the pigeon clock to another camp," marking an early finish time, and then carrying the birds "by vehicles through the highway" to another camp.
The inventors want to keep this high-tech part of the pigeon racing system. They are more concerned about the traditional, low-tech portion.
[A] small piece of newspaper is cut in two such that one half is placed inside the numeric ring and the other half is put into files for records. . . . When a racing pigeon reaches the destination, the half piece of newspaper placed inside the numeric ring is taken out and compared with the other half piece stored in the records to see if the two pieces match, so as to prevent illegal substitution of racing pigeons. . . .
[T]he second mechanism requires much manual operation to carry out comparison and verification of the two half pieces of newspaper, it often causes cheats and unfair competition results.
The inventors' solution is to replace the newspaper system with two-dimensional bar codes, like QR codes. These codes are encrypted, so pigeon racers can't just go on the Web and get one, like I just did.
Combining the wireless RFID tags with the paper-based QR code is "is equivalent to having two pigeon clock devices for double verification performances, thereby effectively preventing cheats in the pigeon racing competition," and probably reducing squabbles between owners.