Robot Infiltration is Okay When It’s Cute…And Involves Lots of Baby Penguins.

The uncanny valley means nothing, apparently, when penguins are involved. In an effort to monitor climate change and its effects on habitats and wildlife, scientists from the University of Strasbourg apparently took a cue from that Futurama episode where Bender gets reprogrammed and created a robot penguin. 

“You look…familiar somehow.”

This adorable little land rover is outfitted in soft fuzz and a round little head, just like a baby penguin. Why all the trouble? Well, penguins are somewhat nervous creatures. To take measurements of their surroundings in Adelie Land, Antarctica, humans would need to enter the penguins’ habitat, causing the birds stress. To get close to animals for study, the scientific team, led by Yvon le Maho, decided rovers would be better for the animals.

34 king penguins were outfitted with external heart monitors (quite a task all on its own), and, to actually read the monitors, an RFID antenna attached to a rover–the antenna had to get close to the penguins in order to get a reading. A plain rover, however, caused some distress. The birds squawked and pecked at it, and were generally very freaked out. 

Noting the penguins’ sensitivity, the team knew they needed a kinder, gentler approach to robots, and created the baby penguin disguise for the rover. And the difference was immediately noticeable. Instead of freaking out, the penguins quickly welcomed their new wheeled friend, especially the babies, who huddled around it the way they would any other baby penguin. The adults, according to a report by CNET, sang to it, although they seemed a bit disappointed when the rover didn’t sing back. 

This cuddly new robot will allow scientists access to the lands the penguins live on without disturbing them, allowing them to study their behavior, monitor their health and research their habitat, including the effects of climate change. The robot was so successful that the team is planning to make more penguin-bots that will be more life-like in terms of movement and sound. 

“He’s kinda weird, but we love him anyway.”

It sounds a little like a plot from a movie about the robot takeover, but it looks like cuddly robots appeal to humans, too. Maybe our robot overlords will at least be cute. 

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