Scientists’ fake robot chick fools real emperor penguins

Scientists in Antarctica are trying to study Emperor penguins to better understand their behaviour and monitor their health, but whenever they try to get close, the animals panic and scatter.

So a team of international scientists and creative types worked to turn a remote-controlled rover into a penguin chick that would be lifelike enough for the real penguins to accept it, the AP reports. First they made a version from fibreglass, but the birds were just as scared of it as they had been when humans approached.

It took five more tries before the group, led by Yvon Le Maho from the University of Strasbourg, came up with the finished product, which is pretty cute and semi-lifelike if you ignore the huge black wheels (check it out for yourself). When this version rolled up, the penguins weren’t scared at all (either that or they were so fed up of weird electronics joining their group by that point that they decided to just go with it).

The scientists were able to watch what happened from 650 feet away and saw the penguins accept the robo-bird newcomer, with a group of chicks allowing it to join a huddle and adult penguins even singing to it. Le Maho says that these penguins may have been lining the interloper up as a potential mate for their chicks, but were apparently disappointed when it didn’t respond. ‘Next time we will have a rover playing songs,’ he said.

In the future, his team plan to add a device to the rover that can read signals from the birds’ radio tags, so the researchers can check up on their feathered friends without them being any the wiser.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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