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Spy-camera robot penguins infiltrate bird colonies

A BBC documentary team unleashed 50 spycams into penguin colonies, including cameras that served as eyes for robotic penguins, to capture stunning close-up footage of the unusual birds.

Penguin spy camera
Can you spot the spy camera? Hint: it's not standing up.
Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

James Bond and robotic spy-camera penguins have a lot in common. They both wear tuxedos and they both sneak into precarious places to do spy work. The robot penguins were unleashed by John Downer Productions for an up-close BBC documentary look at penguin life.

"Penguins: Spy in the Huddle" documents nearly a year hanging out with penguins through the surrogate eyes of 50 different spycams. Some of the spycams were disguised as chunks of snow or small boulders, but the most adorable cameras were those in the guise of robotic penguins.

The production team visited with several different kinds of penguins, spawning the creation of the RockhopperCam, EmperorCam, and HumboldtCam. Each fake bird had cameras for eyes.

The RockhopperCam is particularly impressive. The bipedal penguin-bot features 20 degrees of freedom of movement and gyro/accelerometer sensors. It can waddle over challenging terrain and pick itself up if it falls over. The producers say it was so realistic, some of the penguins accepted it as part of their colony.

A fluffy ChickCam did double-duty as a camera disguise and as a way to keep the camera from freezing. The production team even used a remote-controlled underwater penguin camera capable of diving down to 300 feet.

All these robot spy cameras helped the documentary crew get right into the midst of the penguin colonies without disturbing them or altering their normal behavior. The team was able to capture stunning footage, including that of an Emperor penguin laying an egg, a moment they say was filmed for the very first time.

I could see a bright future for animatronic penguins in the international spy market. Who could resist spilling their state secrets to an adorably fluffy ChickCam?