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Researchers Reference Flocking Birds to Improve Swarmbots 62

Posted by Zonk
from the shine-your-shoes-while-composing-a-song dept.
inghamb87 writes "Scientists have studied flocks of starlings and cracked the mystery behind the birds' ability to fly in large formations, and regroup quickly after attacks, without getting confused and ramming into each other. While the information is cool, some scientists seem to think that the best use of this knowledge is not to aid our appreciation of nature, but to make more effective robot swarms. We've talked about swarming robots many times before, but usually researchers look to insects for inspiration."
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Researchers Reference Flocking Birds to Improve Swarmbots

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  • Boids (Score:5, Informative)

    by Joaz Banbeck (1105839) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @07:27PM (#22240544)
    Craig Reynolds was doing this many years ago: http://www.red3d.com/cwr/boids/ [red3d.com]
    • Re:Boids (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TheBrakShow (858570) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @08:53PM (#22241390)
      Perhaps most relevant to this article is this particular simulation made last year which actually demonstrates flocking birds.

      http://www.dcs.shef.ac.uk/~paul/publications/boids/index.html [shef.ac.uk]

      You can even play with the settings panel on the right side and set off "gunshots."

      But yeah, this stuff is far from news.
    • by jo0ls (865619)
      The old way: each bird adjusts its heading to the average of the birds within a certain radius r. The new way: each bird adjusts its heading to the average of the closest n birds. They studied starling flocks and found that they use a topological distance rather than a metrical distance. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/search?fulltext=flocking [pnas.org]
    • That boids research in one shot puts to shame all the feeble crap on the Science Channel lately about robotic space exploration attempts. More rugged tools were made by hand by colonials two centuries ago, and knowing the machine trade, I know damn well that we make machine tools capable of withstanding the punishment of the moon or Mars, and with these simple examples, we know we can make them behave intelligently if not actually be intelligent. We have such a bleak and depressing science future mindset co
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mrogers (85392)
      The cool thing about this new model is that each bird only needs to track a fixed number of neighbours (seven in the starling flock on which the paper [pnas.org] is based). IIRC every bird in the Boids model needs to track every other bird to keep the swarm cohesive.

      I haven't read the paper yet, but it seems like there could be a parallel with gossip protocols and flooding protocols: if each bird tracks a small number of randomly chosen neighbours, information can move through the swarm just as efficiently as if each

    • You're right, it's really not that new, or rather it's old enough that there was a play with this topic as a highlight that came out about a year ago.

      http://www.newscientist.com/blog/technology/2007/05/landscape-with-weapon.html [newscientist.com]
  • by Malevolent Tester (1201209) * on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @07:29PM (#22240562) Journal
    Researching bird flight and it's applications: £2m
    Developing autonomous swarming robots: £5m
    Watching your prototype robots fly straight into the nearest window at high speed and die: Priceless
  • by Sta7ic (819090)
    Insects swarm, birds flock. Shouldn't theses be called "flockbots"?
  • by StaticEngine (135635) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @07:44PM (#22240724) Homepage
    Perhaps the OP could consider that not all robots are human killing machines, and this kind of swarming/flocking behavior could be applied to something like vehicular safety. I've often pondered the idea of lateral lines on fish, and how quickly a school of fish can become aware of the motions of surrounding fish and other obstacles, remaining in formation but moving as seemingly one unit. How great would it be if robotic cars could react thousands of times faster than a human, and in concert, to flow seamlessly around a tire blowout, or debris that fell off a truck onto the highway? Aren't these kinds of goals the very reason we do this kind of research, and isn't the application of this reserach to improve our quality of life the very thing that pushes mankind forward intellectually?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by flyingsquid (813711)
      Perhaps the OP could consider that not all robots are human killing machines, and this kind of swarming/flocking behavior could be applied to something like vehicular safety. I've often pondered the idea of lateral lines on fish, and how quickly a school of fish can become aware of the motions of surrounding fish and other obstacles, remaining in formation but moving as seemingly one unit. How great would it be if robotic cars could react thousands of times faster than a human, and in concert, to flow seaml
    • I was doing a project for a robotics laboratory in switzerland when a post-doc showed the facilities to his friends and said "...we are not building robots for the army, but for rescue missions instead" well, how is he gonna make sure that his nonlinear oscillator based cpg's won't be used for crocodile sized armored autonomous jungle-saurians once they get that salamander going? some special copyright-law for pacifist roboticists?
      get over it, most of the good roboticists are or will be part of some weapo
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MightyYar (622222)

        get over it, most of the good roboticists are or will be part of some weapon industry.

        Indeed, it's very hard to be part of an industry that doesn't at least indirectly help the military. Even an improvement in textile loom speed can produce cheaper uniforms. The military has a keen interest in everything from alternative fuels, to advances in materials science, to food preservatives. If you can think of an improvement for something, it is likely that it can (and will) be used in some way, however small, to kill people more efficiently.

        As you say, get over it. :)

  • This is old.... OLD news. It is a simple mob effect. See Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams [mit.edu]

    The nature behind it is rather simple. Imagine you have a mob of angry rioters walking down the street. No one really has a plan, but the mob moves together. More or less, no one individually generally wants to break off by themselves and smash in a window and take a TV from the appliance store. It is perceived as a risk of sorts. Eventually though, someone will want to do something enough that their want levels st
  • The author seems to have an unfortunately negative attitude to the idea of robot swarms.

    ftfa - ' A swarm of bees is frightening enough, but a swarm of robots is worse.'

    What the author is missing is the idea that a swarm of bees is one of the most amazing examples of cooperation in the animal kingdom. Anybody would agree that, by itself, a single bee is a simple organism capable of only a very few rudimentary tasks. Yet a swarm of bees can build structures of a complexity humans are now only beginning
    • by Velocir (851555)
      Birds flying in a V shape isn't useless at all, it's efficient. The lead bird expends the most energy because it doesn't get any of the slipstream effect the other birds get off the bird ahead of them. So V-shape formations for robots ARE useless for nonflying robots.
  • by foxylad (950520) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @08:00PM (#22240896) Homepage
    I was intrigued about what the actual algorithm used by the starlings was, but the referenced article didn't elucidate. Eventually I found a link to http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/01/29/scistarling129.xml [telegraph.co.uk] hidden at the bottom - it has a little more detail. Enjoy!
    • by mrogers (85392)
      The PNAS paper mentioned in the Telegraph article is here [pnas.org]. "We therefore showed that the structure, and thus indirectly the interaction causing it, depends on the topological distance rather than the metric distance. The interaction between two birds 1 m apart in flock A is as strong as that between two birds 5 m apart in flock B, provided that flock A is denser than flock B and that the topological distance n is the same."
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @08:08PM (#22240960)
    I would imagine that some clever network folk could use this research to develop interesting parallel-distributed network management algorithms. After all, a large data packet is not unlike flying bird that does not "want" to collide with other packets in large network (= transport medium = "air"). Assuming the coordination packets are much much smaller than the data packets, this scheme would cost-effectively prevent collisions and congestion by optimizing the spread of data both cross-sectionally and longitudinally in a network.
    • by EB FE (1208132)
      I guess I don't see how a packet, being a just collection of data, is supposed to send information to other packets. If a data packet were a physical object or even an executable this might be... interesting.
  • They might not be "appreciating" nature, but they say imitation the sincerest form of flattery.

  • Thank God the robot swarm is here!
  • Tag (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TurinPT (1226568) on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @08:24PM (#22241108)
    Stop using whatcouldpossiblygowrong for crying out loud, it completely defeats the purpose of having tags if all the articles have the same tags.
  • No link to the actual article or anything w/ birds in the summary. Here it is: http://ptonline.aip.org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_60/iss_10/28_1.shtml [aip.org]
    • Even that article doesn't give the results - just a loose characterization of them.

      But it DOES show that they've (so far) only discovered a couple ways that some parts of the behavior's laws are clearly different from what was previously assumed: That the spacing is non-isotropic in the short range and that the birds are interacting with particular individual neighbors, rather than interchangeably with whatever other birds are within a certain distance.

      Still got a year to go on the three-year project. May
      • by Bazzargh (39195)
        Maybe we'll get a mathematical/algorithmic description of what the swarming birds are up to once they file their final report.

        See my reply to the GP for a link to their preprint. In the preprint, notes to figure 4, they describe how to set up a numerical simulation with the behaviour they observed. The model just considers headings, not velocities, and at each timestep just averages the current heading with those of n nearest neighbours, without regard to how far those n neighbours are away.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bazzargh (39195)
      No, the actual article is here:

      Interaction Ruling Animal Collective Behaviour Depends on Topological rather than Metric Distance: Evidence from a Field Study [arxiv.org]

      Numerical models indicate that collective animal behaviour may emerge from simple local rules of interaction among the individuals. However, very little is known about the nature of such interaction, so that models and theories mostly rely on aprioristic assumptions. By reconstructing the three-dimensional position of individual birds in airborne flocks
  • The original paper [ieee.org] about this [wikipedia.org] must be getting a bit old. Time to bring out a new one!
  • "Interaction ruling animal collective behavior depends on topological rather than metric distance: Evidence from a field study"

    M. Ballerini, N. Cabibbo, R. Candelier, A. Cavagna, E. Cisbani, I. Giardina, V. Lecomte, A. Orlandi, G. Parisi, A. Procaccini, M. Viale, and V. Zdravkovic

    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/105/4/1232 [pnas.org]
  • ...as "researchers reference f*cking birds to improve swarmbots"? It puts a whole new spin on TFA.
  • Someone tried to explain this to the general public waay back in 1990.
    http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/navy/docs/np13/np13appc.htm [fas.org]
  • Will this research improve applications following RFC 2549? [ietf.org]

    You have no idea how long I waited to try to use that within context :)
  • I don't want my robots swarming.

    I want them alone, cold and a little bit afraid. I think it will make it easier to keep them in line.
  • I've noticed that seagulls landing on a pier seem to want to land at the same place the bird in front of them landed. The bird in front obliges them by jumping off, into the water. Then the process repeats. It doesn't seem to make sense. There is plenty of space all along the pier; they could simply land in one of the many spaces where no other birds are. It probably keeps them organized, though, since they never have to fly off in complex patterns to find a parking spot, so to speak.

"Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core." -- Hannah Arendt.

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