IPC Roundup 1: Amazing Penguin Spy Robots
I’ve just returned from the 8th International Penguin Conference and there were many excellent presentations on all manner of penguin research projects. It would be impossible to write about them all, but I will try to post a few samples of what the global community of penguin researchers has been up to lately. There are several great fossil projects that I will have to keep quite about for a few weeks or months until the “official” news is broken by the researchers involved in the form of papers, but you can rest assured that this winter should bring lots of new paleontology announcements.
First, to the presentation that most astounded me. The John Downer Productions team created a set of highly realistic robotic penguins to spy on living birds for a recent BBC documentary. Some penguins are timid around humans, and may flee when a normal camera team approaches. So, these robots allow scientists and filmmakers to get up close with the colony and capture intimate details of day to day life in a penguin colony. The robots are more than simple camcorders. Image recognition software allows them to do some amazing things, including remembering the identities of individual penguins based on their patterns of spots. This is incredibly useful to researchers who want to keep tabs on interactions between mates and other colony members.
Two of the robot penguins visited the conference and put on a demonstration that included successfully guessing the gender and age (within about 10 years) of an audience member. The robots also estimated “happiness” and “anger” levels of audience members based on smiles and scowls. Besides being great observation instruments, the robots are tough and sneaky. They can get blown over and right themselves, fall off a ledge without breaking, and even carry “egg-cams” to drop off at strategic locations. I was one of many who had their pictures taken with the Emperor robot.
Here is the trailer for the BBC special Spy in the Huddle: