While studying penguins in Antarctica may seem like a rewarding task, it’s undoubtedly a difficult one. Emperor penguins are said to be quite shy, so their heart rates increase and they tend to change their behavior when humans enter their colonies. This left scientists with inaccurate data on penguin health and other measurements, and in need of a way to probe into their Antarctic world without disturbing them too much.
In the past, cameras and other devices have been successful in serving as undercover spy tools, but a tiny new fluffy, adorable emperor penguin robot-on-wheels is adding another dimension to research. Because it so closely resembles emperor penguin chicks, researchers found that they were able to study emperor penguins in a whole new light because the penguins welcomed and interacted with the robot—all while the researchers controlled the robot from a safe, 650-foot distance, according to the Associated Press.
In fact, researchers say adult penguins even sang to the robot—a call in an attempt to find a mate for their chick. “They were very disappointed when there was no answer,” scientist and study author Yvon Le Maho told Phys.org. “Next time we will have a rover playing songs.”
The researchers unsuccessfully created several different models of the robot, with the first few made out of fiberglass. That fiberglass scared the birds, but the addition of fur and painted beaks and arms was all it took. While initial tests on king penguins, which are closely related to emperor penguins, revealed that the robot still caused penguins’ heart rates to increase, it was not nearly as much as in the presence of a human, says The Guardian. The researchers presented their findings in a study published in Nature Methods earlier this week.
If the 2005 film “March of the Penguins”—filmed in the very same spot, Adelie Land, where the researchers conducted this study—didn’t win you over to the utter cuteness of penguins, this fluffy robot will absolutely do the trick.
Take a look below to watch the new robot in action: