Dead Bird Becomes Robot, Spies on Swamp Sparrows [BBC]

Helped unravel the mystery that wing flapping is a sign of male aggression

By Sebastian Pop on February 27th, 2013 09:10 GMT

Some people might not realize it, but ecology is actually a very demanding and complicated field of science, since it isn't that easy to spy on creatures in their natural habitat.

Biologists and engineers at Duke University in North Carolina knew this well, and they though it was time to give cameramen and explorers an alternative to rolling in mud and crawling around while hoping to stay unnoticed.

As if acknowledging the 1987 blockbuster film RoboCop, they created the Robosparrow. As the name implies, the invention is a robotic sparrow.

The similarities with the robo-rat are just marginal though, since Robosparrow isn't a purely synthetic creation, nor was it made to depress sparrow-kind.

What the US scientists did was take a dead sparrow and, through a combination of Picaxe computer chips and a small linear motor, turn it into a robot. Or maybe cyborg would be the better term.

Getting the robotized animal to behave realistically took nine months, since the parts had to be made smaller.

A sound system was also required, since the Robosparrow was supposed to produce bird calls as well.

Nevertheless, the efforts paid off in the end and the scientists had a viable enough bird ready to go and spy on its still living kin.

Indeed, the Robosparrow was sent out to mix with others of its species for a period of two months. It was a learning experience for everyone.

Among other things, it was confirmed, according to Dr. Rindy Anderson, that wing-flapping is a sign of male aggression.

The Robosparrow project ate up $1,500 / 1,147-1,500 Euro and the bird eventually reached the end of its second life. And in a really dramatic way too. The head fell off one day, then the wings stopped moving. Quite shocking for the swamp sparrows around it really.

Source: BBC
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