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Robot Sex

February 15, 2009

Researchers use robots to study animal mating behavior.


Romancing a robot….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When male sage grouse are looking for a mate, they’re really not that picky. In fact, they’ll even mate with a robot that looks like a female of the species. This allows animal behaviorist Gail Patricelli, of the University of California, Davis, to get a behind-the-scenes look at their mating behavior. She teamed up with engineers to create female sage grouse robots.

GAIL PATRICELLI (University of California, Davis):
With a robotic female, I can basically manipulate one side of the conversation and see how the other side responds. So I can have the female bird do a particular behavior and see how the male respond. But also, I can compare males and how they respond, how responsive are they to the robots and try to understand how that relates to their success in convincing real females to mate.

She says that just like in human courtship, male sage grouse exhibit large differences in social skills, which determine whether females will ultimately choose to mate with them. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.