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Study on Sheepdogs provide lessons in crowd control

Study on Sheepdogs provide lessons in crowd control

Sheepdogs use just two simple rules to round up large herds of sheep, according to a study: collect the sheep when they're apart, and drive them forward when they're together.

Researchers say the findings could lead to the development of robots that can gather and herd livestock, crowd control techniques, or new methods to clean up the environment.

The scientists used GPS technology to understand how sheepdogs do their jobs so well. Until now, it wasn't clear how the dogs manage to get so many unwilling sheep to move in the same direction.

Researcher Andrew King of Swansea University in the U.K. fitted a flock of sheep and a sheepdog with backpacks containing extremely accurate GPS devices designed by colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College, London. Daniel Strömbom of Uppsala University in Sweden and colleagues then used data from these devices, and computer simulations, to develop a mathematical shepherding model.

The team found that sheepdogs likely use just two simple rules. In the model, one shepherd could herd a flock of more than 100 individuals using those rules. The research is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

“If you watch sheepdogs rounding up sheep, the dog weaves back and forth behind the flock in exactly the way that we see in the model,” said King, a fellow at the U.K.'s Natural Environment Research Council. “We had to think about what the dog could see to develop our model. It basically sees white, fluffy things in front of it. If the dog sees gaps between the sheep, or the gaps are getting bigger, the dog needs to bring them together.”

Said Strömbom: “at every time step in the model, the dog decides if the herd is cohesive enough or not. If not cohesive, it will make it cohesive, but if it's already cohesive the dog will push the herd towards the target. Other models don't appear to be able to herd really big groups – as soon as the number of individuals gets above 50 you start needing multiple shepherds or sheepdogs.”

King said “there are numerous applications for this knowledge, such as crowd control, cleaning up the environment, herding of livestock, keeping animals away from sensitive areas, and collecting or guiding groups of exploring robots.”

Source : www.world-science.net

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