Robotic missions to study animal behavior is nothing new. However, researchers created a robot to study hippo behavior in Kenya and the resulting creation was so real to the animals that one of them decided to give it a chase.
It might seem funny sending a robotic airboat disguised as a crocodile to look for hippo poop in Kenya’s Mara River, but the hilarity quickly turned to apprehension when a fully–grown hippopotamus started chasing the robot.
Paul Scerri, president of Platypus LLC and an associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, and other members of a scientific team brought Platypus’ robo-boats to Kenya for three weeks in March to support a research project focusing on the Mara River’s water quality, reported NBC News.
When a population of 4,000 hippos use the river as a toilet on a daily basis, the results are certainly aren’t pretty. Scientists have long attributed the mass deaths of schools of fish in the Mara River to the huge amounts of hippo droppings. The researchers say hippo poop accumulates on the bottom of the river’s pools during periods of low flow, and is flushed down the Mara when the river rises.
The sudden rise of such content can easily cause oxygen levels to crash downstream. Unable to breath, the fish could be suffocating to death. To confirm the hypothesis, scientists wanted to sample the water where the hippos hang out. Needless to say this job is much too dangerous for humans. So they decided to send in three remote-controlled, instrument-equipped airboats, reported Gizmag.
Locals suggested disguising the robots to look like crocodiles. Hippos are accustomed to the presence of crocodiles and usually both the species give each other space and respect the presence of the other. Hence the robots could easily swim around and take samples without being disturbed. For many of the occasions, the idea worked great, but there was that time when a hippo apparently felt the robot was getting a little too close to comfort and decided to give chase.
The video shows the hippo clearly chasing the crocodile–robot. Fortunately for the robo-boat, the hippo stumbled into deep water about 30 seconds into the chase, providing an opportunity for escape.
The scientists have been able to gather enough data to confirm their hypothesis. Speaking about the incident, Paul said, “We can honestly say that no robo-crocodiles — and no hippos — were harmed during the making of this research project”
[Images via Bing]