Science

Robot Penguins Infiltrate Colonies

By Joann Fan email: j.fan@itechpost.com , Feb 12, 2013 04:30 PM EST
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John Downer Productions (JDP) dispatched robotic penguins to colonies of emperor penguins in Antarctica, rockhopper penguins on the Falkland Islands and Humboldt penguins in the Atacama Desert of Peru. BBC's new documentary "Penguins: Spies in the Huddle" is filmed from 50 spycams, all of them designed to fit right into their new habitats without adding the disruption of human interference.

The cameras are disguised as penguins and chicks, or inanimate objects such as rocks and and eggs. The company even recycled a snowball cam from its film about polar bears - "Spy on the Ice," which can roll across the terrain and has no visible moving parts.

The RockhopperCam, their latest addition, is bipedal, waddles among other penguins and can be loaded with up to 75 preprogrammed motions to help it blend in. It can even pull itself up when it falls, and was so realistic, JDP said on its site, that some penguins took the RockHopperCam as one of their own.

The HumboldtCam has similar capabilities to the RockHopperCam and functioned well in a colony full of penguins that are notoriously skittish.

At about three feet tall, one EmperorCam stands at eye-level with emperor penguins, the largest of the three species, and another rolls around on its stomach, resembling a bird that is perpetually tobogganing.

In the Antarctic, a ChickCam is covered in fluffy down, which allows it to stay warm and keep the camera from freezing up even in the worst conditions. It can also film the colony from a chick's-eye view.

The team also employed a heavy-duty camera set on all-terrain treads and embedded in an ice-camouflaged casing. It could function in any weather, and its slow speed allowed it to get close to the penguins without scaring them. To follow penguins in the water, an Underwater PenguinCam can travel up to four knots, and dive down to 100 meters.

Spies in the Huddle was the first show to catch an emperor penguin laying an egg in the wild. The first episode covered the penguins' harrowing journeys to their respective breeding grounds: rockhoppers have to scale a 300-foot cliff, Humboldts are tropical penguins that breed in the desert and emperor penguins must brave blizzards and arctic seas.

The show, set to air in three parts, debuted Monday on BBC.

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