John Downer Productions (all photos)

STANDARDS

CCSS: 6.EE.B.6, MP2, MP7

TEKS: 6.6B


Wild Spies

Meet the high-tech robots that give us an insider's view of the animal kingdom

Scientists have an extremely hard time observing wild animals in their habitats. Suspicious and elusive, some creatures scurry into hiding when a big, noisy human gets too close. To outsmart these wild animals, documentary filmmakers from U.K.-based John Downer Productions deploy lifelike robots to do candid-camera work.

Each “spy animal” robot has high-definition cameras for eyes and movable joints to interact with real wild animals. They also have long-range remote controls so that their human commanders can direct them from far away. 

Scientists have a hard time observing wild animals in their habitats. Many animals are afraid of big, noisy humans. They hide when a scientist gets too close. Documentary filmmakers found a way to outsmart these wild animals. They used lifelike robots to secretly film animals. The filmmakers are from John Downer Productions, which is based in the U.K. 

“Spy animal” robots have special tools to snoop on wild animals. The robots’ eyes are high-definition cameras that record video. Their joints move so they can interact with wild animals. They also have remote controls. These controls let humans direct the robots from far away. 

Robot designer John Nolan works on the Spy Pup’s camera eye.

The filmmakers teamed up with scientists to learn more about the animals they wanted to follow. They built 34 spy creatures—including Spy Meerkat and Spy Pup. These robot agents star in Spy in the Wild, a TV series that aired on PBS last year. The footage the team shot recorded some behaviors that had never been filmed or even witnessed before.

For example, Spy Pup was sent to infiltrate a pack of wild dogs on the African savanna. It was accepted by the dogs by mimicking their body language. With its 24 moving parts, the robot wagged its tail and made a bow, signifying it wanted to play. “When you look back at the footage, you go, ‘Wow, I can’t imagine we managed to capture that behavior’,” says Michael Gordon, one of the producers of the TV series.

The filmmakers worked with scientists to learn more about the animals they wanted to film. They built 34 spy animals, including Spy Meerkat and Spy Pup. These robot agents starred in Spy in the Wild. This TV series aired on PBS last year. The footage the team shot recorded some behaviors that had never been filmed or even seen before.

For example, Spy Pup was sent to infiltrate a pack of wild dogs on the African savanna. It mimicked the animals’ body language. The robot wagged its tail and made a bow using its 24 moving parts. To other wild dogs, this meant it wanted to play. Then the real dogs accepted the robot wild dog into their pack. "When you look back at the footage, you go, wow, I can’t imagine we managed to capture that behavior," says Michael Gordon. He’s one of the producers of the TV series.

Other animal robots needed extra help to blend in. Meerkats in Africa have a superstrong sense of smell. They can even smell food when it’s hidden underground! So Gordon’s team smeared meerkat poop on Spy Meerkat to cover its unnatural smell.

Sometimes wild spies are funny. When the team was filming in India, a real monkey started pulling Spy Macaque Monkey’s tail. So the team made the robot react. It raised its eyebrows and opened its mouth. 

"These expressions make the robot come alive even more,” says Gordon.

Other animal robots needed extra help to blend in. Meerkats in Africa have a super-strong sense of smell. They can smell food even when it’s hidden underground! So Gordon’s team smeared meerkat poop on Spy Meerkat to cover its unnatural smell.

Sometimes wild spies are funny. When the team was filming in India, a real monkey started pulling Spy Macaque Monkey’s tail. The team made the robot react. It raised its eyebrows and opened its mouth.

"These expressions make the robot come alive even more," says Gordon.   

Use the tables below to write and evaluate algebraic expressions about the Spy in the Wild documentary TV miniseries. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

Use the tables below to write and evaluate algebraic expressions about the Spy in the Wild documentary TV miniseries. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

A) The documentary team spent years filming Spy in the Wild. The table below shows how many hours of footage were shot each year. Complete the table with an expression for the amount of footage shot after y years.

A) The documentary team spent years filming Spy in the Wild. The table below shows how many hours of footage were shot each year. Complete the table with an expression for the amount of footage shot after y years.

B) How much footage would they have after 5 years?

B) How much footage would they have after 5 years?

A) It took many cameras to capture the special moments in the series. The table below shows the hours of footage shot for each episode. Complete the table with an expression for the amount of film shot after e episodes.

A) It took many cameras to capture the special moments in the series. The table below shows the hours of footage shot for each episode. Complete the table with an expression for the amount of film shot after e episodes.

B) How many hours of footage would be shot for 7 episodes?

B) How many hours of footage would be shot for 7 episodes?

A) The table below shows how many total minutes it takes to watch several episodes of Spy in the Wild in a row. Complete the table with an expression for the time needed to watch n episodes.

A) The table below shows how many total minutes it takes to watch several episodes of Spy in the Wild in a row. Complete the table with an expression for the time needed to watch n episodes.

B) If they expanded the series to 9 episodes, how many hours would it take to watch them all?

B) If they expanded the series to 9 episodes, how many hours would it take to watch them all?

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