A robot disguised as a cute and cuddly baby penguin is being used to study the species in the Antartica. Surprisingly, the ever-wary penguins have responded well to the robot.
Researchers regularly use robots to survey animals in the wild. It helps them observe the species from afar. Though majority of the animals do not mind the presence of a robotic beast, some take offense and attack. The key, researches reveal, is to ensure the robot or tool should blend in the atmosphere, or in case of a mobile observatory, it shouldn’t be considered hostile by the species.
Emperor penguins are one of the least understood species on the planet. Owing to the extremely hostile environment, it has been quite difficult to observe them for prolonged periods of time. Moreover, these flightless birds are extremely shy and skittish around humans.
Many Emperor penguins have been tagged with advanced data collecting devices, which are embedded in their skin. But these devices needed to be accessed up close to log the data, which needless to say needs to be done by human, and this freaks out the little guys. Hence to make the data collection an easier and less than scary process, the researchers thought of sending in a robot rover, reported NPR.
The earlier fiberglass penguin seemed to frighten the penguins. Then the researchers had a big breakthrough when they developed a furry version that resembled a baby penguin, reported IBN Live. The redeveloped and re-disguised version has had some astonishing results.
Instead of running away, these penguins have not only accepted the baby penguin robot rover, but on some occasions they have even sung to it. Interestingly, the penguins appeared a little saddened when the robot rover didn’t respond to them, shared Yvon Le Maho of the University of Strasbourg.
“They were very disappointed when there was no answer. Next time we will have a rover playing songs.”
The baby penguin rover has already offered never-before-seen footage of an emperor penguin laying an egg. So far, the rover has collected about 1,000 hours of footage, which Maho states is equivalent to about five years of research.
To confirm the baby penguin robot rover didn’t disturb the penguins, the researchers measured the change in heartbeat of the penguins when the rover approached them. There was just a little extra flutter, almost the same when one penguin passes by another.
The video footage gathered during the successful experiment is expected to be featured on BBC miniseries Penguins: Spy in the Huddle.
[Image Credit | Le Maho et al, Nature Methods]