Nothing To See Here: Scientists Use R/C Penguin Car To Infiltrate And Study Penguin Colony

November 4, 2014


Group hug!

This is the R/C car disguised as a penguin that researchers in Antarctica are using to infiltrate emperor penguin colonies to study the birds without alarming them. It looks like its working. That or all the baby penguins have just always dreamed of having a robot friend. Mom, can I spend the night at Wheelie's tonight? "No." Awwww, why not? "Because his father is a monster truck and a heavy drinker."

In a new study, Yvon Le Maho of the University of Strasbourg in France and colleagues equipped 34 king penguins with an external heart rate monitor that could be read with an RFID antenna (the same technology lets you into your office or onto the subway with the swipe of a card). A day later, they sent an unadorned 4-wheeled rover into the colony. Not only did the penguins let the rover get close enough to read their monitors, the birds' heart rates increased less and returned to normal more quickly than when the same task was done by a human with a hand-held reader.

Le Maho is already using the rovers to study how climate change is affecting the breeding success and survival of king penguins. But he and his colleagues say there are many other possibilities. The rovers could be modified, for example, to record vocalizations of animals or to gather data from sensors mounted inside their territory without disturbing them.

Sometimes I wish I'd dedicated my life to studying animals. Bats, specifically. If you were going to devote the rest of your life to studying an animal, what would you choose? Elephants? Apes? Owls? Lions? "Women." THE MOST MYSTERIOUS SPECIES OF ALL. I'm still not convinced scientists even know for certain where their pee comes out. Because I've asked before and "Please tell me you're joking" is not an answer.

Keep going for one more shot and a short video.


Thanks to becca b, who's curious to see how well an R/C car disguised as a snowball would work.

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