Robo-Penguin to the Rescue
Two weeks ago findings from a report on the behaviour of emperor penguins in the Antarctic were published thanks to the help of a robotic rover dressed as a penguin chick.
The researchers, from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, told BBC news they were trying to find “a less invasive and stressful way to collect data on these species”, which are known to be extremely timid and shy.
Dr Yvon Le Maho, who led the study, found that when approached by humans, the penguins’ heart rates would increase considerably, so came up with the idea of using a rover to study them in their normal state. Early models looked a little like remote controlled cars and Dr Yvon explained to BBC news that “Emperors huddle together, because they have no [other] territorial defence… So when they see the rover approaching, they get very stressed.”
Five models later, and the researchers had disguised the rover as a fluffy chick. The penguins seemed much more comfortable around it, even huddling with it and trying to communicate with it.
The scientists wanted to avoid the usual approach of tagging flippers, because they felt it was “unethical” and altered the penguins’ health. They worked with nature filmmakers to come up with a new approach of using under-the-skin transponders, which work like microchips. The rover can recognise the transponders within 60cm of a penguin, providing useful data for scientists.
“Scientists do not generally speak about disturbance they cause,” Dr Le Maho told BBC News. “But I have always been very concerned with that – it relates to both science and ethics.”
Click here to look at some amazing images we found on YouTube of the rover in action.
Emily B, Year 9
Boston High Newsroom