SDSU's 'RoboSquirrel' project criticized by Oklahoma senator

Project makes government pork list

SAN DIEGO - San Diego State University is being criticized for spending hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars on a robotic squirrel.

Researchers at SDSU and the University of California, Davis have spent $325,000 on a robotic squirrel. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation, which is built on taxpayer dollars.

Taxpayer watchdog Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has blasted the "RoboSquirrel" project, saying, "The problem in Washington is politicians are very specific about what we should fund, but not specific about what we should cut. As a result, we are chasing robotic squirrels and countless other low-priority projects over a fiscal cliff."

SDSU spokesman Greg Block said the project is a powerful tool to examine biology. He said parts to make the squirrel were only a few hundred dollars, and the rest of the funds went to supporting the students.

"We have been able to support the training and education of four graduate students and 30 undergraduates with this award," Block said.

The experiment uses the robotic squirrel in an attempt to learn more about how real ones interact with their fiercest competitor, the rattlesnake. SDSU biology professors Rulon Clark and Matthew Barbour, along with researchers at UC Davis, made the recent discovery.

In an SDSU press release, Clark said, "We're shedding light on all of nuances of what's going on between this specific predator and prey interaction."

The researchers said when confronted by rattlesnakes, California ground squirrels employ a key defensive tactic to stave off the snake -- they wag their tails.

Coburn cited "RoboSquirrel" in his government pork list of some of the most "egregious" ways taxpayer dollars are being spent. He claimed this year's total is $18 billion.

*Click here to read Coburn's list for 2012.

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