Robot Penguin : Researchers get close to penguins by disguising rover as baby chick

Researchers get close to penguins by disguising rover as baby chick

Skittish penguins let their guard down when researchers send a fluffy “robochick” into their midst. The approaching rover causes the animals less stress than humans do and may prove useful in studies of other wild populations, researchers report November 2 in Nature Methods.

One tool for such studies is to tag with Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT tags), which have Radio Frequency Identification to monitor individual animals.

However, PIT tags can only be read when the animal with the tag is close to an antenna.

Yvon Le Maho of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France and colleagues examined the feasibility of reducing stress on incubating king penguins by using a rover to read RFID tags.

They found that stress responses of these penguins were significantly lower when the rover approached compared to the presence of human researchers.

The authors also camouflaged the rover with a penguin model and tested it on the more shy emperor penguins.

The emperor penguins allowed the rover to approach close enough to read RFID tags.

Some chicks and adults even spoke, or squawked, at the camouflaged rover.