Meet the penguin robots that infiltrate colonies and inspire unrequited love
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Photo Credit: Youtube Screenshot

Filmmakers built 50 animatronic replicas of penguins and placed spy cameras inside. The robot penguins were so lifelike they were even attacked by predators and rivals

In the movie Her, Joaquin Phoenix plays a man of the near future who becomes so entranced with a Siri-like computer program that he falls in love with “her” – only to have his heart inevitably crushed. But that’s science fiction, right? Because there is still no robot advanced enough to persuasively act human.

Penguins, on the other hand, aren’t so lucky. A paper just published in the scientific journal Nature Methods reveals that wild penguins approached by remote-operated rovers had significantly lower and shorter stress responses than when approached by humans.

French Ecophysiologist Yvon Le Maho (who famously appeared in the film March of the Penguins) has been tagging penguins in the wild with tiny radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. The idea is  to monitor and try to save these species in the face of habitat and climate change. But the problem with this minimally invasive tracking method is that a radio antenna must be within two feet of a penguin to read its tags.

“You would have to get close to the birds to read the tags, and we didn’t know exactly how humans circulating in a penguin colony would disturb the birds,” Le Maho told Popular Mechanics.

Between 2008-2012, Le Maho and his colleagues used the rovers to approach two penguin colonies near Antarctica: king penguins on Possession Island and emperor penguins on Adélie Land.

The king penguins accepted the rovers in their midst. They experienced a mild jump in heart rate, but much less than when approached by humans. They attacked the rover, but did not disperse.

The emperor penguins were more fearful, but when a stuffed penguin chick was mounted on top, they allowed the rover to approach and join a group of real penguin chicks, even singing to it.

“They were very disappointed when there was no answer,” Le Maho told the Associated Press.

But if you think that’s disappointing, imagine what it would be like to fall in love with a fellow penguin that turns out to be a robot.

This is apparently what happened when BBC filmmakers made the wildlife documentary “Penguins – Spy in the Huddle (Waddle all the Way).” The filmmakers built 50 animatronic replicas of penguins and placed spy cameras inside. The robot penguins were so lifelike they were even attacked by predators and rivals. Which brings us to this video. A rockhopper penguin in the Falkland Islands takes a shine to the filmmakers’ female penguin robot. His love interest is unresponsive. But this does not stop a jealous female rival from venting her anger.

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Simona Weinglass

About Simona Weinglass


I’m an old-school journalist who recently decided to pivot into high-tech. I work in high-tech marketing as well as print and broadcast media covering politics, business culture and everything in between.

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