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Researchers Reference Flocking Birds to Improve Swarmbots

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the shine-your-shoes-while-composing-a-song dept.

62

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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Boids (5, Informative)

Joaz Banbeck (1105839) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240544)

Craig Reynolds was doing this many years ago: http://www.red3d.com/cwr/boids/ [red3d.com]

MOD PARENT UP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22240870)

Modelling bird swarming behaviour isn't new. Applying 20-year-old research to robots isn't exciting.

No, but think swarming spambots ... (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241566)

"Modelling bird swarming behaviour isn't new. Applying 20-year-old research to robots isn't exciting."

Or swarming worms ... DDoSwarming one web server after another.

No more need for IRC C&C ... just release the swarm into the wild.

Re:MOD PARENT UP (4, Informative)

Bazzargh (39195) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241774)

Modelling bird swarming behaviour isn't new. ...getting it right is. If you rtfa, and Craig Reynolds work, you'd know that the boids simulation assumed that birds interacted with all nearest neighbours within a certain distance. The paper this article refers to proves by observing starling flocks that that isn't true - in fact the starlings interacted with the nearest 6 or 7 independent of the distance apart the birds were.

Re:MOD PARENT UP (1)

pfft (23845) | more than 6 years ago | (#22244694)

Is the paper available somewhere? I couldn't find a reference to it.

Re:Boids (4, Interesting)

TheBrakShow (858570) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Boids (1)

jo0ls (865619) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241750)

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]

Re:Boids (1)

suitepotato (863945) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241912)

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 compared to the 70s... Thanks for the trip down memory lane though. I loved the use in that short seen on Night Flight.

Re:Boids (2, Insightful)

mrogers (85392) | more than 6 years ago | (#22244500)

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 bird tracks every other bird.

Nice story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22245908)

Sounds astonishingly like Michael Crichton's book "Prey".
Way cool, but let's hope the result is different. ;-)

okay let's get these out (-1, Offtopic)

Arthur B. (806360) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240560)

1. In Soviet Russia, Linux runs beowulf cluster of swarming robots (which I for one welcome) 2. What could possibly go wrong ? 3. ... 5. Profit

Modelled after birds? (5, Funny)

Malevolent Tester (1201209) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240562)

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

Alfred Hitchcock would be pleased (0, Flamebait)

KublaiKhan (522918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240566)

Does this mean that a remake of "The Birds" with robotic birds will be in the offing, then?

Re:Alfred Hitchcock would be pleased (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240586)

It's ironic you bring up "artificial swarming life" in the context of "being used to kill people."

Now, now... (1)

KublaiKhan (522918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240700)

It's only a movie. It's not -real- blood. ;-p

Hmm (1)

Sta7ic (819090) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240578)

Insects swarm, birds flock. Shouldn't theses be called "flockbots"?

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22240652)

Insects swarm, birds flock. Shouldn't theses be called "flockbots"?
No, the creators thought that if they named them "flockbots," they'd be too easily confused with a different type of robot prototype.

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22240722)

Call 'em whatever, I don't give a flying flockbot.

Re:Hmm (1)

emjay88 (1178161) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241064)

Look out Ms Daniels [wikipedia.org] ! Those Flocking Flockbots are back!

Ans fish school makin gthem easy to catch in a net (1)

Babu 'God' Hoover (1213422) | more than 6 years ago | (#22245730)

Sooooo....
patent your swarm net before it gets declared a military secret and you'll make out like a bandito.

The Birds (0, Redundant)

HeavensFire (1161917) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240638)

Alfred Hitchcock unavailable for comment.

Odd to dismiss it so early (3, Interesting)

StaticEngine (135635) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240724)

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:Odd to dismiss it so early (2, Funny)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241394)

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?

Yeah, sure, like THAT will make a cool premise for a sci-fi movie...

its undeniable and sad (1)

hansguckindieluft (1228846) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241784)

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 weapon industry. Who will and who won't is not a choice of the roboticist but that of some swarm dressed in neat uniforms.

Re:its undeniable and sad (2, Interesting)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 6 years ago | (#22243068)

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. :)

Re:Odd to dismiss it so early (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22241838)

So when one car suddenly shifts direction because of that tire blowout and runs off the road, you want all the other cars to suddenly shift right along with it like a school of fish, and all run off the road?

Re:Odd to dismiss it so early (1)

StaticEngine (135635) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242112)

Yes, that is clearly EXACTLY what I was hoping for.

Now you've foiled my nefarious plan!

Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams (1, Interesting)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240776)

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 start matching or exceeding their perceived risk of breaking off of the mob. The person who begins to break off will be at an equilibrium of sorts... if the mob keeps going and are going to leave this person behind, either their want levels have to have a bit of increase, or they join back into the mob, because they don't want to be singled out. The other scenario is parts of the mob will notice said person breaking off and their perception of risk goes down, where more of the mob will follow... then the more that follow, the more that end up following.

Kill the "whatcouldpossiblygowrong" tag, already (0, Offtopic)

Scareduck (177470) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240802)

It's not funny and it's not useful.

swarms are not creepy (1)

penguinbroker (1000903) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240834)

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 to rival and are still the most efficient way to collect nectar and create honey.

With that said, the attractiveness of swarms is more in the cost efficiency of the robots that will eventual be part of these swarms. Like the now infamous storm bot which is able to utilize simple and relatively cheap computers around the world to create a very impressive super computer cluster to carry out tasks that would normally require very expensive hardware, the idea of robot swarms is to utilize the economies of scales to create affordable and simple robots to achieve complicated goals.

While flying in an V shape seems rather useless, it is a necessary step towards building networks of simple robots that will one day be responsible for everything from farming to repairing space stations. The idea of robot swarms lends nicely to the idea of self healing and adapting networks of bots, where a single device failure can be dealt with efficiently and quickly.

Re:swarms are not creepy (1)

Velocir (851555) | more than 6 years ago | (#22244274)

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.

FA Just Another Dreamy Blog (3, Informative)

foxylad (950520) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240896)

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!

Re:FA Just Another Dreamy Blog (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22241252)

elucidate
Seriously. Emily Carr would have punched you in the face.

Re:FA Just Another Dreamy Blog (1)

mrogers (85392) | more than 6 years ago | (#22244532)

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."

jumbo packet swarms in mesh networks (2, Interesting)

G4from128k (686170) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:jumbo packet swarms in mesh networks (1)

EB FE (1208132) | more than 6 years ago | (#22245378)

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.

Re:jumbo packet swarms in mesh networks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22249310)

dude i totally want a swarming (large swarm separation)/flying set of wifi access points. to follow when driving, so music can be streamed from home, or a camera can be streamed back to home (for insurance archival purposes) or something. with bird chasis, yep, that's a must..

Not appreciating, just flattering. (1)

Zadaz (950521) | more than 6 years ago | (#22240986)

They might not be "appreciating" nature, but they say imitation the sincerest form of flattery.

TGTRSAH (1)

Vincent Van Googol (638464) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241034)

Thank God the robot swarm is here!

Tag (4, Insightful)

TurinPT (1226568) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241108)

Stop using whatcouldpossiblygowrong for crying out loud, it completely defeats the purpose of having tags if all the articles have the same tags.

Re:Tag (3, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241474)

Perhaps something has gone wrong with the tagging system.

Re:Tag (1)

Hektor_Troy (262592) | more than 6 years ago | (#22254752)

It's a tagging system, not a big intelligent computer. I mean - what could possibly go wrong?

Re:Tag (2, Insightful)

quest(answer)ion (894426) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241608)

it completely defeats the purpose of having tags if all the articles have the same tags.
making the same joke over and over will kill it regardless of the way the joke is made.

of course, /. is living proof that this stops no one.

Re:Tag (1)

Nullav (1053766) | more than 6 years ago | (#22243556)

of course, /. is living proof that this stops no one.
Perhaps in Soviet Russia! *ducks*

Re:Tag (2, Funny)

Bongo Bill (853669) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242306)

Stop using that tag? Yeah. That's a great idea. What could possibly go wrong?

Link to article (1)

HoneyBeeSpace (724189) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241280)

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]

Still don't see a solution - or description. (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241438)

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. Maybe we'll get a mathematical/algorithmic description of what the swarming birds are up to once they file their final report.

Re:Still don't see a solution - or description. (1)

Bazzargh (39195) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241714)

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:Link to article (2, Informative)

Bazzargh (39195) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241596)

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 of few thousands members, we prove that the interaction does not depend on the metric distance, as most current models and theories assume, but rather on the topological distance. In fact, we discover that each bird interacts on average with a fixed number of neighbours (six-seven), rather than with all neighbours within a fixed metric distance. We argue that a topological interaction is indispensable to maintain flock's cohesion against the large density changes caused by external perturbations, typically predation. We support this hypothesis by numerical simulations, showing that a topological interaction grants significantly higher cohesion of the aggregation compared to a standard metric one.

new tag (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22241366)

flocknotposixcompliant

Link to original research (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22241444)

So I've read the OP five times trying to find the link to the research... There isn't one! How the heck did this make it onto slashdot?

The article in The Telegraph [telegraph.co.uk] .
The research group [angel.elte.hu]
Funding from CORDIS of 1.16 million euros [europa.eu] , total cost 1.29 million euros. [rja]

Particle Swarm Optimisation? (1)

embezzled (643330) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241480)

The original paper [ieee.org] about this [wikipedia.org] must be getting a bit old. Time to bring out a new one!

PDF of referenced collective behavior research (2, Informative)

nexus9k (141949) | more than 6 years ago | (#22241592)

"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]

anyone misread the headline (1)

misterthirsty (1102101) | more than 6 years ago | (#22242202)

...as "researchers reference f*cking birds to improve swarmbots"? It puts a whole new spin on TFA.

RFC 2549? (1)

SJ2000 (1128057) | more than 6 years ago | (#22244090)

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 :)

Personally... (1)

martinQblank (1138267) | more than 6 years ago | (#22245566)

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.

Re:Personally... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22250206)

Seems to work for the /. crowd.

Get Spielberg on the horn! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22250318)

Jurassic Park 16: Island of the Swarmbots!

"They're flocking this way!"

Seagulls at the peer (1)

superdude72 (322167) | more than 6 years ago | (#22256232)

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.
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