SAN DIEGO — They’re cute, they’re furry, they’re robotic — and they’re paid for with your tax dollars. Robotic squirrels made to study animal behavior were developed at San Diego State University as a part of a $325,000 National Science Foundation grant.
The adorable automatons came to life in Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn’s Wastebook 2012, an annual catalog of questionable government spending. The robots were used to test rattlesnakes– a natural predator of squirrels. Researchers mounted taxidermied squirrels on heated robotic frames. Controls allowed the scientists to move the squirrels’ heads and tails to taunt snakes. Though cute, for fiscal conservatives, the squirrels were a poor use of federal funds.
“The problem in Washington is politicians are very specific about what we should fund, but not specific about what we should cut,” says Coburn, a Republican. “As a result, we are chasing robotic squirrels and countless other low-priority projects over a fiscal cliff.” Researchers say the machines are valuable for studying animal behavior.
Other government projects mentioned in Coburn’s report? A $300,000 effort by the Agriculture Department to promote eating caviar. And even $27 million for pottery classes – in Morocco. Meanwhile, back in San Diego, researchers are planning Robo-Squirrel 2.0 and a new friend: Robo-Kangaroo Rat.