Compared with human scientists, robots offer a less obtrusive way to get close to critters
Y. Le Maho et al/Nature Methods 2014
Skittish penguins let their guard down when researchers send a fluffy “robochick” into their midst. The approaching rover causes the animals less stress than humans do and may prove useful in studies of other wild populations, researchers report November 2 in Nature Methods.
One way scientists can monitor wild animals is by slipping a tag under the skin that a radio-frequency reader identifies. To recognize the tags, a reader must get within 60 centimeters of the animals. No matter how unobtrusively scientists try to sidle up to them, animals still get spooked.
To test a less jarring alternative, researchers sent a remote-controlled rover into colonies of penguins and elephant seals in Antarctica and the Crozet Archipelago. The team equipped king penguins with heart rate monitors, and then measured how the birds reacted