Robot squirrels are going into rattlesnake country to help scientists learn how real California ground squirrels interact with their main predator, rattlesnakes.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, discovered that when adult squirrels confront a snake, the squirrels make flagging movements with their tails, plus they heat their tails. Because rattlesnakes can “see” in the infrared, the researchers thought the squirrels might be sending a signal to the snakes. But, with live squirrels, there is no way to separate tail flagging from tail heating.
Enter the robots. UC Davis engineers built a squirrel with a heatable tail and a tail flagging mechanism, each controlled separately.
In the video below, you can see how the rattlesnake reacted when the “robosquirrel” wagged its tail, versus when it did not.