Meet ECHO. This four-wheeled robot is helping scientists monitor emperor penguins in Antarctica. The vehicle is semi-autonomous—it can navigate the vast, frozen terrain without much direction from scientists. ECHO is equipped with a 360-degree camera and sensors to spot penguins, as well as an antenna to detect whether any of the birds have been tagged with a tracking chip.
Antarctica’s harsh environment can make it difficult for researchers to count penguins. “As a human, you cannot walk around and try to scan 15,000 or 24,000 penguins each year. It’s impossible,” says Daniel Zitterbart, who leads the ECHO project at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “The amount of data we gather through ECHO is something we would never achieve with any other method.”