This Tiny Yellow Robot Is Spying On Antarctic Emperor Penguins | Smart News

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The vehicle, ECHO, was designed by the Marine Animal Remote Sensing Lab at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. ECHO is part of a large-scale research project monitoring the impact of human-induced climate change on the Southern Ocean.
Daniel Zitterbart/Woods Hole Institute of Oceanography

Among thousands of emperor penguins in Atka Bay, a yellow robot named ECHO quickly slips through the Antarctic environment and patiently observes the birds. The autonomous, remote-controlled robot is about one meter long and stands at eye level with adult penguins. ECHO monitors the Southern Ocean marine ecosystems in real time, all year round, with minimal impact on wildlife.

Since 2017, ECHO has collected tracking data from microchips stuck on penguins’ feathers, reports Zoe Christen Jones for CBS News. ECHO was designed by the Marine Animal Remote Sensing Laboratory at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts.

The bot is a recent addition to a long-term, large-scale research project called MARE, reports popular science‘s, Lauren J. Young. The acronym stands for “Mmonitor the health of AAntarctica maRine ecosystems using the Eemperor penguin as a sentinel,” according to the OMSI website. A sentinel species is an organism used to determine risk to humans. By observing a sentinel species, scientists can identify early signs of environmental hazards. changes where they swim, hunt, mate, or give birth indicates a sign change in the health of the overall ecosystem.

“We all know that the world is changing and that this change will have dramatic effects on biodiversity and on ecosystems, especially in very remote regions, such as Antarctica,” says Daniel P. Zitterbart, researcher at Marine Animal Remote Sensing. Lab. popular science. “To understand whether this is true or not, we need to start monitoring these systems very closely now.”

Some experts suspect penguins could all but disappear within 100 years as the climate crisis threatens their existence. A study published in Biology of global change found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at the current rate, warming temperatures could melt Antarctica’s sea ice and 98% of the emperor penguin population could disappear by 2100, reports Ashley Strickland for CNN.

An image of a motionless yellow robot on a snowy terrain

The robot can easily roll up to penguins and scan beacons without introducing harmful human footprints into an already vulnerable ecosystem or affecting the colony.

Daniel Zitterbart/Woods Hole Institute of Oceanography

Scientists must physically capture and tag each bird on its back to track the penguins. Each tag is a passive transponder (PIT) and radio frequency identification (RFID) system that works similarly to microID chips inserted into the backs of pets, popular science reports. But to gather data on the fleas, scientists have to get close enough to the devices to scan them, and sometimes penguins have an unpredictable foraging schedule, or the weather can be too harsh for humans to get out into the field. , by popular science.

ECHO eliminates these problems by acting as a mobile observatory that can monitor thousands of penguins each year. The robot can easily roll up to penguins and scan beacons without introducing a harmful human footprint into an already vulnerable ecosystem or affecting the colony, per CNN. The robot is equipped with LIDAR, or light detection and ranging, and a 360-degree camera that can detect penguins over large areas and uses an antenna to activate and read each penguin’s chip.

“As a human being, you can’t walk around and try to scan 15,000 or 24,000 penguins every year, that’s impossible,” Zitterbart said. popular science. “The amount of data we can collect through ECHO is something we could never achieve with any other method here.”

While ECHO has only been tested for a year, researchers say the penguins don’t seem to be afraid of it or mind it when it approaches. When penguins engage in a mass gathering during the winter, ECHO can sneak in and scan the penguins as they brave the elements, per CNN. By tracking colony behaviors over time, researchers can observe how penguins adapt and track where they go for food. In turn, these data points can also determine the actual size of marine protected areas, reports CNN.

Now that the team knows the penguins won’t run away from ECHO, they’re working to improve the vehicle’s battery life, which only lasts a day, and find a way to protect the robot from sudden snowstorms. , popular science reports. Eventually, ECHO can collect behavioral and biological data about penguins, such as survival and reproductive rates, how and when penguins collectively gather for warmth, data on various communication calls and signals, and coping strategies. chase.

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