What do sheepdogs and robots have in common? It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but actually, there’s a real connection! By studying sheepdogs and understanding the way they manipulate herds of sheep, researchers are learning how to create models that will mimic these strategies and improve the efficiency of robots.
Researchers fitted sheep and sheepdogs with GPS devices on harnesses to attempt to develop a mathematical model for herding. They found that sheepdogs use two main rules when working: 1) collect the sheep when they’re scattered and 2) move them forward when they’re all together. It’s surprisingly simple- and it’s more efficient than many current models that have been attempted! The dogs are constantly reviewing the situation in front of them to determine if the sheep are gathered together enough to drive forward, and if not, they herd them closer together. Using these two rules, a dog can herd over 100 individual animals, but current robot models can only handle groups of about 40. The understanding gained from these dogs may change that!
Learning from sheepdogs can likely make a big difference in the development of computer models and robots created for herding, cleaning the environment, and crowd control. As usual, I’m amazed at the knowledge that we’re able to gain by studying man’s best friend!