We now know what we’ve suspected all along: We humans are no match for our garden foe, the squirrel.
The squirrel is wily, devious, clever and fast on its paws. This creature is also a master of deceptive tactics. The brainiacs at Georgia Institute of Technology made this discovery and are busy analyzing squirrels with the intent of using certain aspects of their behavior in the design of military robots. Good for them. It’s about time someone stopped throwing sticks and rocks at squirrels, shrieking and cursing at them, and devising ways to trap and kill them. Squirrels are finally getting the recognition and respect they deserve.
Professor Ronald Arkin and his team at Georgia Tech’s school of interactive computing identified particular squirrel behaviors that are singularly useful in the strategic art of deception. One of these behaviors involves the squirrel’s habit of hiding their nut supplies.
What do squirrels do to prevent other squirrels from stealing their nut stash? Well, according to Arkin, they dig a hundred little holes in your vegetable and flower garden to distract other squirrels from finding the real nut stash. You’ve seen those empty depressions in your yard next to the bulbs and seeds you planted, right? You know that squirrels watch you while you stand there and curse, don’t you?
Anyway, Arkin and his team decided to build this technique into their robot. They’ll create a ‘predator’ robot that will visit fake ammunition locations, thereby protecting the actual stores. Brilliant.
The article I read didn’t mention other instances of borrowing squirrel behaviors in the design of their robots. So, I’ll provide a few others.
Driving Your Enemy Insane
Squirrels, of course, are the experts of this technique. If you have dogs (if you don’t, get some), you’ve most likely watched them race up and down the fence in your yard chasing a squirrel who seems to have unlimited energy and time to do the same. Or, you’ve seen the squirrels who manage to stay just out of jaw reach, chittering and chattering at the poor, stupid beast who keeps throwing itself at the tree trunk.
It’s a small leap from there to design a robot that races up and down the terrain while the enemy’s vehicles burn up a full tank of gas. Meanwhile, the real robot is somewhere else, blowing up their headquarters. But I guarantee you, the enemy’s soldiers, sitting in that vehicle, will have been driven insane long before then.
Stealth Nut Bombing
You’ve experienced this; I know you have. You’re walking along the sidewalk, minding your own business and, BAM! An acorn pierces your noggin. You look up and see nothing. Nothing.
Stop attributing the incident to gravity, folks. Don’t be so trusting. Somewhere in that tree you just passed under, perches a squirrel, camouflaged by the branches. And it knows exactly when to hurl the nut at your head.
So, think about it. Camouflaged robots, perched in trees… well, you know the rest. This military tactic is even more effective in that the offended troops will stand there, for a good 15-20 minutes trying to locate the robot/squirrel in the tree. They will be driven mad when they can’t find it.
Nine times out of ten, a squirrel can safely make it to the other side of a heavily trafficked street. And this is in spite of the multiple changes in direction the creature makes—back and forth, darting, stopping, turning on a dime, and befuddling the driver. You, the driver, however, now has whiplash from repeatedly slamming on the brakes (You BETTER BE slamming on the brakes!) You’re cursing. All of the crap you’ve placed on the seat next to you has catapulted to the floor. Your latte now coats the inside of your gear box. You will arrive at work in a very cranky mood.
Now imagine the usefulness of this evasive maneuver on the battlefield. Picture their tanks or planes zigzagging wildly while our troop robot zigzags twice as fast in a completely random fashion. I’ll bet severe whiplash could get a soldier kicked out of combat. Hundreds of troops walking around in neck braces wouldn’t inspire confidence. The chiropractor bills alone would decimate a country’s defense budget.
This post is meant to be a lighthearted look at the strategy and tactics of war. Frankly, I’d much prefer that every country’s troops learn a different behavior from squirrels: The ability to play with each other in that jubilant, joyous way they do, with no one getting hurt, ever.
Squirrel photos: Courtesy of the talented photographers uploading to the free image library at Morguefile.com