This robot helps researchers learn more about wild dogs.
Africa is filled with fascinating predators, but one we still know very little about is the endangered African wild dog (Lycaon pictus). Much like gray wolves here in North America, it is a highly sociable animal and a pack hunter that works with others to take down larger prey items.
To learn more about this unique species, researchers have taken some rather unusual steps to get up close and personal with wild dogs. Perhaps none more unusual than crafting a fully functioning robotic puppy with a camera in place of one eye.
The wild dog pup robot easily fools the other pups in this pack. The adults are a little more hesitant, but ultimately accepting of this unusual and unexpected addition to their ranks. Watching their interactions is fascinating.
It turns out the body language of the wild dog is not much different than our domesticated variants. This took a lot of thought and precision engineering to build and program this robot to replicate the different behaviors that allow it to be accepted by the pack. The adults knew something was up with this robot from the get-go, but once it started behaving naturally, they came to accept it.
This might seem excessive for research, but the wild dog's numbers are dwindling in the few areas it is found in Africa. Unfortunately, this species often comes into conflict with humans, especially if the wild dogs are targeting livestock. Humans have often shot and poisoned these animals to protect their livelihoods, which has decimated their numbers.
It also does not help wild dogs and lions are natural enemies and the lions usually win in a scrum with them. It makes it difficult for this species to rebound their numbers when the lions decide to kill them simply because they are a rival competing for food. Hopefully, with a little more insight into the secret lives of these pack animals, researchers can come up with solutions to preserve the species and avoid those unwanted encounters with humans.
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