Does PETA Dream Of Electric Groundhogs?

PETA is requesting that a robotic groundhog replace famed quadruped Punxsutawney Phil. PETA claimed in a press release that it's unfair to keep Phil in captivity; subjecting him to bright lights and big crowds is also on their bad-human list.

William Deeley, president of the Inner Circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, disagrees, saying that the animal is “being treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania." The groundhog is kept in a climate-controlled environment and is inspected annually by the state Department of Agriculture.

Well, PETA, your wish has already come true. Take a look at this Groundhog robot created by engineers at Carnegie Mellon.

(Goundhog robot - 3D Mine Mapping)

We have two robotic systems developed for acquiring accurate volumetric maps of underground mines. One system is based on a cart instrumented by laser range finders, pushed through a mine by people. Another (Groundhog) is a remotely controlled mobile robot equipped with laser range finders. To build consistent maps of large mines with many cycles, we describe an algorithm for estimating global correspondences and aligning robot paths. This algorithm enables us to recover consistent maps several hundreds of meters in diameter, without odometric information. We have tested the robots in two mines, a research mine in Bruceton, PA, and an abandoned coal mine in Burgettstown, PA.

On October 27, 2002, the Groundhog robot was deployed in an abandoned coal mine, too toxic for people to enter (oxygen levels were too low for people to remain conscious). The previously flooded mine had been partially drained in the days before the experiment. Though the ground was still covered with toxic mud. the robot advanced more than 30 meters into the mine when the computer box flooded. A second experiment on October 29 led to an even deeper penetration, now with a water-sealed computer box. The robot was more than 50% submersed while a live video feed was broadcasted via satellites to a mine safety conference.

On May 30, 2003, Groundhog autonomously descended into the abandoned Mathies Mine near Pittsburgh, PA. The 1500-pound vehicle was equipped with laser range sensors, a night vision camera, gas detectors, sinkage sensors, and a gyroscope. 308 meters into the rapidly decaying mine, Groundhog encountered a broken ceiling beam that draped diagonally across the robot's path. The robot made the appropriate decision to retreat.

Philip K. Dick fans are sympathetic with PETA's wish for robotic groundhogs, having their own special wish for electric sheep and other animals since reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in 1968:

He ascended … to the covered pasture whereon his electric sheep "grazed." Whereon it, sophisticated piece of hardware that it was, chomped away in simulated contentment, bamboozling the other tenants of the building.

Of course, some of their animals undoubtedly consisted of electronic circuitry fakes, too (he had never nosed into the matter)…Nothing could be more impolite. To say "Is your sheep genuine" would be a breach of etiquette.

From NBC Philadelphia.

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