Robot Penguin Rover

Jessica Parker

In the latest Zoological news, baby penguin robots are conducting research on unsuspecting king, and emperor penguins. King penguins look very similar to their larger cousins the emperor penguins. King penguins also don’t live in the midst of Antarctica like the emperors, but live in the sub-antarctic islands close by.

Researchers had been trying and failing to collect information about the penguins without disturbing them. Every time they got close to the penguins they would become stressed and scatter, disturbing set familial territories and causing fights. They wanted to collect data on the bird’s natural behavior, but this commotion made their research impossible. Furthermore they found that when the birds were approached by humans their levels of stress hormones would rise. The researchers worried that this was unhealthy for the penguins. So the researchers concluded that they had to devise a plan to study these skittish birds without disturbing them. So obviously a baby penguin robot was the next logical option.


They found that the birds’ heart rates did not increase as much when approached by the robot. They also noted that the penguins attacked human researchers and undisguised robots (data collector on wheels), but did not attack the penguin robot. The robot is also a remote-controlled RFID (radio frequency identification) reader. This machine registers certain information about the birds it approaches that have been micro-chipped by researchers in the past.


The mechanical chick was so effective that other baby penguins and penguin parents were vocalizing to it. The author of this study, Yvon Le Maho, said that the penguins “were very disappointed when there was no answer…next time we will have a rover playing songs” (Songs being the song of a penguin chick). The penguin rover was even able to successfully join a huddle of other baby penguins undetected. Perhaps they realized how cold the little robot was and were attempting to warm it up.