Ann, my guess is that wouldn't be a problem. Critters tend to not to try to prey upon inert objects -- like a dog not taking a child's toy seriously. While the robot could possibly scare a smaller creature, I don't think it would attract a larger creature. Of course, when it comes to young animals that like to play, all bets are off.
But if robots are made cute and friendly to not scare smaller critters that won't keep them from being damaged by bigger ones. I don't see how to get around that, since nature isn't exactly a controlled environment.
Rob, while robots tracking wildlife seems initially like a no-brainer, on second thought I have some doubts, at least if the robots need to get close to birds and animals. Big animals, like sharks, might just chew them up. As I pointed out in another discussion thread, artificial critters would probably scare most birds and many smaller animals, at least if they acted like machines. I wonder if the work that went into Survivor Buddy's interface and body language to make it friendlier to humans, as we discussed here http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=247687&image_number=4 could be applied to the same for wild animals.
The Wave Glider is pretty amazing. It's won world distance records for unmanned devices, traveling more than 3,200 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean. You can check out its specs here: http://liquidr.com/technology/wave-glider-specifications/ which is why we included it in our Nautical Robots slideshow: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=246206&image_number=3
Yes, tracking whales would be a great use of this technology, Beth. And it would probably be a simple matter to make the tracking technology into a smartphone app. The hurdle would be the process of tagging a ga-zillion whales.
By the way, what type of whales do you watch? Orcas?
@Chuck: Actually we've been seeing how they track and tag sharks first hand in Mass. given the influx of great whites on the Cape and around the Vineyard. Basically it doesn't look that much different than the original Jaws movie--big boats, big fly bridge, big harpoons.
I would love to see a similar app for tracking whales. We regularly take a boat out to the feeding grounds and do whale watching--sometimes, we've been lucky enough to see hundreds, which is exhilarating. Sometimes, we've made the trek and seen nothing. Definitely a cool use of technology.
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