Roboticists in search of a challenge, take note. The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants to replace the weather-forecasting Punxsutawney Phil of Groundhog Day fame with an animatronic version. Robot followers that we are here at Crave, we're all for an electronic rodent, but we're also pretty sure groundhog bots have a long way to go before they can charm crowds the way little Phil can.
PETA maintains that the animal whose annual February 2 antics portend the duration of winter is mistreated--put on display year-round at the local Pennsylvania library; denied the ability to prepare for and enter yearly hibernation; and forced to endure screaming throngs of thousands, media attention, and human handling.
According to legend, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter weather will follow. If he doesn't, expect an early spring. But PETA has had enough of the tradition that dates back to 1886, and believes robotic technology could be the solution.
"If Punxsutawney frees Phil, then the bitter winter that's made him into an unwilling media attraction will end, making way for a sunny spring that everyone can enjoy," PETA writes in a post on its PETA Files blog.
In a letter (PDF) written to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club and posted on PETA's Web site, animal specialist Gemma Vaughan notes that groundhogs are normally shy animals that "become stressed" when exposed to too much hubbub.
She also notes that "other popular exhibitions have featured robotic penguins and dolphins who swim and communicate just like real animals do, and we think that an animatronic groundhog would similarly mesmerize a crowd full of curious spectators in Punxsutawney.
"Tradition is no excuse for cruelty, and this opportunity would allow Punxsutawney to engage in a futuristic, interactive, versatile, and humane annual event," she writes.
So having seen time and time again that any robot that can be imagined can be created, we'll wait for the engineers of the world to come up with a cute machine version of the sleepy marmot. In the meantime, those who aren't offended by the real-life furry prognosticator can get notified by text message the minute Punxsutawney Phil pops out of his burrow Tuesday. Text "Groundhog" to 247365, the Pennsylvania Tourism Bureau instructs. And yes, standard text messaging rates do apply.