Scientists and filmmakers love to deploy robots in disguise to spy on real animals. They've sent drones to film herds of elephants and zebras in Africa, armored mobile robots to photograph Kenyan lions, and animatronic apes to get close-up footage of bonobos. Now the BBC has sent 50 special cameras, including robot penguins that can walk and swim, to get inside penguin colonies and capture never-seen footage of the adorable flat-footed, tuxedo-clad birds in their natural habitats.
For their documentary "Penguins: Spy in the Huddle," the BBC hired John Downer Productions to build a variety of special penguin-cams to film three different species. These spycams were not just the typical remote-controlled cameras hidden in a fancy case. One of them, the RockhopperCam, is a walking penguin bot with 20 degrees of freedom, equipped with gyroscopes, accelerometers, and high-def cameras. According to the producers, it can walk over different terrain, stand up if it falls over, and its computer is preprogrammed with 75 different "penguin motions." Other spycams included the EmperorCam, ChickCam, SnowCam, EggCam, Underwater PenguimCam, and the SnowballCam. From the trailer below, it looks like penguins are ready to welcome their robot overlords.
Image: John Downer Productions
Erico Guizzo is the digital product manager at IEEE Spectrum. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.