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Global economic implications of robot penguins [VIDEOS]

You may have seen this video of an Unmanned Ground Vehicle shaped like a penguin chick:

As strange as it may sound, penguin robots have an important role to play in the emerging world economic order of the 21st century.

Whether you believe in climate change or not, a lot of very powerful countries take it seriously. Eyes are turning to our presumably warming polar regions and their now available resources.

The Arctic has large oil and gas deposits. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, declared, “Offshore fields, especially in the Arctic, are without any exaggeration our strategic reserve for the 21st century.” United States, Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia have already received licenses for Arctic oil exploration.

Agriculture may be the last thing you think of when you regard the Arctic, but significant increases in food production are expected to occur in Russia and Greenland. Of course, some commercial ships seeking an Asia-European route will find an ice-free northwest passage to be an attractive alternative to the Suez Canal.

The Antarctic also has its attractions. Some claim that it has “…largest underexploited fishery in the world” (East Asia Forum).  Large amounts of oil, coal and other valuable minerals have been found in Antarctica.

However, the legal status of the Arctic and Antarctic are poles apart. The Arctic Sea is surrounded by nations who have longstanding claims to the area. Arctic counties include Russia and a number of NATO members.  New resources and traditional adversaries sound like an explosive combination, but so far the conflicts have been minimal.  Still, I would not be surprised to see military strategists discussing the defense of our Northern Frontier.

Unlike the Arctic Sea, Antarctica is a kind of “no man’s land,” govern by an international “treaty regime.”  Coming into force in 1961, this treaty bans militarization, and establishes Antarctica as a “scientific preserve.”

Mining and other exploitative activities are forbidden. In a resource-starved world, many do not expect this ban to last forever. In the yet-to-be-determined date, when the Antarctic goodies are divided up, how can a country make sure that it gets it rightful share?

Since science is the sole legitimate activity in the Antarctica, nations are securing future claims through the establishment of research stations.  “You put a huge flag on a flagpole close to the research station,” says Klaus Dodds, a professor of geopolitics at the University of London. “It is not very subtle” (Economist).

Countries who are either conducting research or have expressed an interest in doing so, include Malaysia, Japan, India, Australia, China, South Korea, Argentina, Belgium, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

China alone is spending 55 million dollars a year on multiple stations. Over 350 places in Antarctica now have Chinese names.

Not everyone in the scientific community is happy about this new found enthusiasm for research.  Some studies have been criticized as being transparently worthless, and even harmful to the local wildlife.

Enter the robot penguins. Unmanned penguin vehicles enable scientists to observe and take physiological measurements of penguins without stressing everybody’s favorite flightless water fowl. The penguins are safe from harassment, research is performed, and the sponsoring country reinforces its claim to the future exploitation of Antarctic resources.

Since they have proven useful for both research and nationalistic aspirations, there are more than one type of penguin robot.

This one features a robot that glides elegantly through a flock of penguins:

Another robot encounters true love and jealousy:

Finally, if you wish to get in on this “penguin gold rush,” PBS Nature demonstrates how to build your own penguin robot:

You may decide to leave penguin robot building to another person. Just remember the next time you view a penguin robot video, you are not just witnessing the scientific investigation of a cute animal, but you are also seeing economic forces that may determine how much your grandchildren pay for a gallon of gas.

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