MOVE over David Attenborough. A robot that moves only when it won't be seen or heard might make it easier to sneak up on animals and film them in the wild.
Defence labs have built robots that track people through cities, avoiding well-lit areas. But cities are noisy, so if a robot keeps a certain distance it's unlikely to be heard. Tracking and filming animals in the wild is tougher because they often have keen hearing and the environment is usually quieter. Matthew Dunbabin and his collaborator Ashley Tews at the CSIRO Autonomous Systems Laboratory in Brisbane, Australia, are teaching a four-wheeled robot to move only when intermittent sounds - like bird or frog calls - will mask its movements.
In tests, the robot picked up the sounds of things like fork-lifts, cellphones and birds, and was able to predict whether they were likely to persist long enough to cover its movement. The robot can also identify its own noise, and guess how it will vary at different speeds and turning angles - calculating what this will sound like to a target up to 50 metres away.
With the help of a camera, laser scanner and the right algorithm, the robot can figure out which vantage points will provide the best cover so it can skulk in the shadows.
This article appeared in print under the headline "Sneaky ninja robot silently films its prey"
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