Otago Polytechnic
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Weighing penguins might help save their lives.

The Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust is continuing to fight for the survival of this species, which is one of the rarest penguins in the world. The yellow-eyed penguin, or hoiho, are very shy, and prefer to nest often well away and out of sight of their neighbours. That makes it difficult to visit nests often to monitor the health of adult and chicks during the nesting season. During the nesting season penguins often lose weight because only one adult in each breeding pair can feed at any one time.

So the Trust asked if we could develop a product that would help them to weigh the penguins. Postgraduate Product Design students Ian McDowall and Francis Bingham worked on phase one of this project, supervised by Machiko Niimi and Tim Armstrong. The students worked with the team in our EPICentre facility to produce a weigh station that would be positioned just outside a nest. Adult birds entering and exiting the nest would step on the weigh station, and be weighed automatically in the absence of any human presence. Phase two is under way currently, with Information Technology students connecting the weigh station to an Internet of Things so that the data about the penguin weights is sent back promptly to the Trust.

This project will enable the Trust to monitor the health of the penguins being weighed, so they know whether and when to visit a nest and intervene if necessary to save their lives. The project will also help in the longer term by providing more detailed penguin population health data.

This project was a finalist in the 2018 Design Awards. Read more about it here.