One year when I was in junior high school my parents gave me a radio controlled car for Christmas. It was the perfect gift for a young boy right in the middle of dealing with the most awkward, confusing psychological change that comes with puberty (no longer thinking riding a bike is cool, but still being too young to drive a car). I loved that R/C car, so much that I kept playing with it outside as it started to rain one day, eventually frying the circuits so that it never ran again.

But things would have been different if my parents had been researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, or KAIST. First, everyone would have been surprised by how two Korean scientists ended up with a Caucasian son with blond hair. And next, they could have hooked me up with a controllable water-resistant reptile, like the remote controlled turtle KAIST is currently developing.

Green turtles are generally bred and sold as pets. But the industrious team at KAIST looked at them and figured it was time those lazy turtles got jobs.

Initially, the team, led by researcher Phil-seung Lee, considered using turtles for military applications, such as reconnaissance and intelligence gathering missions. Of course, since the only thing more dangerous than a soldier gone rogue is a soldier gone rogue with built-in body armor protecting his back, the scientists needed to devise a way to control the spy turtle.

The team hit upon a humane control scheme, bypassing any neurological tinkering which could have driven the turtle mad with silent rage when it realized what had been done to it. Almost all animals, turtles included, have a tendency to avoid obstacles in their path of movement, Lee explains. First, the scientists attached a movable cover to the turtle’s shell. By manipulating the cover with a remote control and partially blocking the animal’s line of sight, the team is able to make it move in the opposite direction.

The team has since realigned its project goals and is now hoping to use the remote controlled turtles for less bellicose purposes, particularly by sending the creatures into places unsafe for humans. Aside from deep sea observation activities, KAIST hopes to someday use the technology to have animals carry out rescue missions in disaster areas as well. Despite how adorable a corps of rescue turtles would be though, as they trudge towards you with a determined look in their eyes, we’re hoping they pick an animal that’s a little faster to come save us if we’re trapped under a collapsed building.

Source: Mainichi Newspaper
Top image: Pakutaso