Danger, Squirrel Nutkin! (2009)

Danger is a frequent subject in the communication of prey species which often have signals for general danger, for specific predators, and, even for the direction whence danger comes.

In squirrels, tail-flicking is the primary alarm signal, the intensity of the flicking growing with the threat.

When installed in an urban park, "Danger, Squirrel Nutkin!" attempts to warn nearby squirrels of approaching dogs, foxes, hawks, and people using a version of their own tail-flick alarm signal, amplified via the supernormal stimulus of a trio of tails.

Machine-learning-backed computer vision is used to detect possible predators in the surroundings, a threat level determined, proportional tail-flicking initiated, the central boom rotating to indicate the direction of the predator.

Mostly, the squirrels respond appropriately by running up into the canopies of the trees.

Occasionally, however, a squirrel will approach the robot, watch the tail-flicking for a brief moment, and then respond with tail motions of its own far more complex than I have ever otherwise seen.

One is left wondering if the lexicon of squirrel tail gestures is more elaborate than so far realized and that the robot has made a statement much different than what it had intended, bewildering the inquisitive rodent.

Perhaps instead the squirrel is using the opportunity to question the tendency of technopositivists to believe every problem has a technical solution.