With their feathery tuxedoes and charming Chilly Willy-waddle, penguins are the quintessence of cute. Small wonder they're featured in Coke commercials, movies like "Madagascar" and "March of the Penguins" and children's toys galore.
But one University of Houston professor is looking into a serious side of these ultra-cute creatures.
Dozens of teeter-tottering penguins are the subjects of a research project investigating balance and locomotion.
"Compared to other terrestrial animals, penguins have an excessive amount of side-to-side, waddling motion," Max Kurz, UH Health and Human Performance professor said. "If humans waddle too much they fall, but penguins somehow overcome this. They may have an elegant movement strategy for stability that we're unaware of."
Kurz hopes that learning about the penguin's distinctive waddle will help those with walking challenges, such as the elderly, those with leg or foot injuries and toddlers learning to walk.
The research findings could even allow the development of more mobile robots.
For UH researcher Kurz, his subjects' funny, cuddly nature is just an incidental advantage.
His current research will provide a springboard for future studies on the unique locomotive strategies of penguins. Next, he will examine the running patterns of the penguins. And if you think penguins are cute waddling, just wait till you see them in a hurry.
As comical as his subjects may be, Kurz remains a scientist first and an amused spectator second.
"You can't help smiling," Kurz said, "but this is serious research, and the results could make a real difference in many people's lives."
Photos and videos available at www.uh.edu
Source : University of Houston.