Emperor penguins are notoriously shy creatures, which poses a problem to the scientists trying to research the health and behavior of these birds. Whenever any of the researchers would come near the penguins they would become quite fearful and back away, causing rapid heart rates and other fear-induced responses. This makes it very difficult for any person trying to record resting heart rates and other “penguin parameters.” Another fear of many researchers is that penguins’ wariness of people causes them to change their behaviors when being observed, thus preventing researchers from being able to record normal penguin behaviors in their natural settings, affecting the accuracy of the studies. So how can researchers observe the penguin behaviors without being present?
Yyvon Le Maho of the University of Strasbourg in France came up with a solution to create a small rover disguised as a penguin.
The initial rover; made up of fiberglass, scared the penguins and proved to be unsuccessful. After five tries, researchers have come up with a rover that successfully interacts with and observes the penguins without scaring them or causing changes in their typical behavior. And I must say, resembling a real baby chick with gray fur, black arms and a little black beak, this rover is pretty cute!
Not only did the penguins not react fearfully to the little rover, they actually interacted with it like a real penguin, singing it special songs and including the rover in their huddles. After observing disappointment in the penguins when the rover did not sing back, Le Maho says they plan to create the next rover with the ability to sing songs.