PROJECT DODO: an exoskeleton for the dodo

The dodo became extinct at the end of the 17th century due to human actions. According to the famous French natural historian Buffon, the bird had itself to blame. The dodo was unfit to survive. How do we ensure that the dodo can withstand the dangers of the 21st century?

As humans, we try to solve every wicked problem with technological quick fixes. Can that be done differently? When we look at nature, for example, there are many intricate ecological processes involved. Yet, we do not experience these as complex. What can we learn from this? We therefore take the dodo as a case study. Scientists have recently been trying to genetically map this extinct bird, using DNA from bone remains, in an attempt to bring the dodo back to life and reintroduce it into the wild. What if that works? Who guarantees that the dodo will survive this time around?

Up until roughly 400 years ago, the dodo was thriving. On Mauritius, a then uninhabited island in the Indian Ocean just off the coast of Africa, this hip-high bird lived without natural predators, in abundance of food, and played a crucial role in sustaining the local vegetation. This was until the island became a supply station for the Dutch East India Company fleet. The tame dodo turned out to be easy prey for the diseases, predators and vermin the Dutch brought along on their ships. Can we retroactively help the dodo arm itself against the dangers the island now has to offer? With PROJECT DODO, SETUP investigates how to make the dodo 21st-century proof. So that when the time comes for the dodo to roam the earth again, we ensure that this peculiar bird is ready for its new life in modern-day Mauritius.

First steps: what are the new age dangers for the dodo?

An exoskeleton

In our search for the ideal protection for the dodo, we decided on an exoskeleton, an external skeleton that is also used by humans amongst others in construction to help lift heavy objects…


After extensive research into the possible dangers that the dodo could face in the 21st century, we arrived at an external frame made of steel and aluminium. One that not only functions as a protective armour but above all – as befits a bird – allows the dodo to fly again.
Equipped with 4 hybrid stepper motors, 28 kilos of steel and 5 kilos of aluminium, ultrasonic sensors and microcontrollers, the exoskeleton can automatically avert danger. As soon as something or someone comes too close, the built-in risk detection system ensures that the aluminium wings unfold. The dodo can thus deter potential danger and keep itself safe.

Work in progress: what will it take to protect the dodo?
From the very first exoskeleton to scale...
to the full-size exoskeleton, modeled in Fusion360

Once airborne, the dodo is protected from earthly hazards and the exoskeleton will make sure to land in a more secure place. Is danger detected there as well? Then the exoskeleton once again relocates the dodo to a safer side. Let’s wing it!

But we're not there yet...

Obviously, this design brings new challenges. To lift 20 kilos of dodo off the ground, a wingspan of at least 3,60 metres is necessary. A load-bearing construction for wings this size requires more aluminium and stronger bolted connections. This additional volume, combined with the large up- and downward forces that the respective wing surface creates, will amongst others cause more resistance on the motors, which thus have to be replaced with stronger ones to ensure sufficient power. With forces this great, the steel tubes holding up the exoskeleton should be thicker in order to guarantee torsional rigidity. The resulting weight increase of the entire exoskeleton eventually means that the entire wingspan needs to be enlarged by a factor of 1.3.

Additionally, to create sufficient lift for the wings to carry the dodo up in the air, a mechanism which launches the construction off the ground is required. For this, we consider ejectable steel paws equipped with coil springs as a future expansion to the existing exoskeleton.

Foto's: Chun-Han Chiang

Needless to say, we are not there yet as this exoskeleton requires a completely new infrastructure for implementation. We suggest solar parks in Mauritius to guarantee a sufficient and stable power supply. Based on the calculated power usage of considerable exoskeletons, one-third of the island’s surface has to be reserved for this. The new vegetation that will emerge as a result of the dodo’s return to Mauritius should therefore be cut down in an extensive deforestation project. Thereafter…

See what we did there?

You may already see what’s happening here. Instead of thinking about systemic solutions to this problem, we fall back on technological quick fixes. Quick fixes that, as Pat and Mat have shown us many times before, often lead to new problems instead of structural change. This is termed ‘solutionism’, or more specifically: ‘techno-solutionism’.

With PROJECT DODO, SETUP investigates the phenomenon of techno-solutionism, the belief that every problem has a solution and that this solution can be found in technology. An ideology that, according to technology critic Evgeny Morozov, even considers the most complex social issues as neatly defined problems with definite, computable solutions. Or as transparent and self-evident processes that can easily be optimized, as long as the right technology is used.

We see this recurring in how today’s society deals with complex problems. Climate change, social inequality, polarisation, our colonial past. We rather ‘build an app’ as a solution than start a conversation about our behaviour.

This human tendency to innovate ourselves out of the major problems of our time, where does it come from? What worldviews underlie this? And what has it brought us so far? By fully embracing the techno-solutionist way of thinking in this project, we attempt to better understand the peculiar creatures we call humans.