May 12 - Remote-controlled turtles are being studied as a potential tool for espionage and surveillance. Scientists in South Korea say they have been able to control the walking paths of live turtles by attaching blinders to their shells, a simple, non-invasive technology that could prompt the animals to go where humans can't. Rob Muir reports.
The red-eared slider is well known as a popular pet but soon, it could be carrying out top secret missions in enemy territory. The turtle can be remotely controlled. Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have discovered that with a motor attached to a curved blinder mounted on the turtle's shell, they could remotely control its walking direction. Study co-author Lee Phil-Seung says the experiments take advantage of the turtle's natural instinct to avoid obstacles... in a non-invasive way. (SOUNDBITE) (Korean) SOUTH KOREAN SCIENTIST OF KOREA ADVANCED INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (KAIST) LEE PHILL-SEUNG SAYING: "We found that the turtle does not perceive white materials as obstacles, but does so for black materials. The experiment was based on this concept. By showing black fake-obstacles and having the turtle avoid them, we were able to control the turtle's movements." By tracking the turtle's progress with an overhead camera, the scientists could steer the animals along predetermined paths, a discovery that Lee says has potential application in surveillance, exploration or even rescue missions. SOUNDBITE) (Korean) SOUTH KOREAN SCIENTIST OF KOREA ADVANCED INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (KAIST) LEE PHILL-SEUNG SAYING: "The very first purpose of the project was intended for military use, just like what small robots do or possible use in surveillance and reconnaissance. But there are a lot of places on the Earth where a human being cannot go, so I think scientists could use it in that way." And many of those places are underwater. The team is now researching ways in which the technology can be applied to the turtles in a swimming pool. Visual stimulus they say, does not impose a heavy strain on the turtle...but merely takes advantage of its instinct to survive.