Although European hedgehogs are often seen in gardens, their presence beside people may sometimes expose them to risks, including those posed by advanced technology used to maintain our lawns. Recent research has shown the potential for some robotic lawnmowers to pose a threat to hedgehogs. However, fortunately, the study has also proposed an innovative safety testing method.
The answer was presented in the shape of a hedgehog used as a “crash test dummy”. Dr. Sophie Lund Rasmussen from the University of Oxford led a team that created a dummy using a soft rubbery plastic material. The dummy is specifically intended to imitate the soft and squishy body of a genuine hedgehog, including its distinctive spines.
Prior to developing a safety test with this mannequin, it was crucial to ascertain the response of hedgehogs when confronted with a robotic lawnmower. The study team conducted an experiment in a controlled setting, where they observed the reactions of hedgehogs that had been rescued and were now prepared for release. The hedgehogs were exposed to a bladeless robotic lawnmower positioned at a distance of 50 centimeters (20 inches) from them.
The experimental configuration included conducting encounter tests between live hedgehogs and a deactivated robotic lawnmower that was halted before to reaching the hedgehogs.
They discovered that the critters exhibited one of three behaviors: fleeing, positioning themselves in front of the lawnmower with a little curve, or investigating it by smelling. Using this information, the researchers were able to determine the optimal placements for the hedgehog crash test dummy in order to conduct safety tests on a robotic mower. The test results would then indicate if the device could successfully avoid a hedgehog, and if not, the extent of harm it would inflict on the animal.