Robots could replace sheepdogs after scientists learn herding secrets

27 Aug 2014

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'Meh - robot, schmobot'

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The concept of robots replacing humans at their jobs is nothing new, but now robots could replace sheepdogs after scientists cracked just how the canines herd flocks.

The Guardian reported on a study that found successfully herding sheep involves two simple basic mathematical rules. One causes a sheepdog to close any gaps it sees in a flock, and the other results in the animals being driven forward once the gaps have sufficiently closed.

Obeying these two rules, a computer simulation revealed, allowed one sheepdog to control a flock of more than 100 animals.

To uncover that result, researchers kitted out a flock of sheep and a sheepdog with backpacks containing GPS sat navs. The mathematical shepherding model then developed by using data from the devices that had been programmed into a computer simulation.

Daniel Strömbom, a mathematician from Uppsala University in Sweden, said at every time step in the model, the dog decides if the herd is cohesive enough or not, The Guardian reported.

“If not cohesive, it will make it cohesive, but if it’s already cohesive the dog will push the herd towards the target.”

The discovery not only has implications for herding livestock, but also for environmental clean-ups, keeping animals away from certain areas, and even human crowd control.

The research has been published in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Sheepdog at work image via Shutterstock

Tina held senior editorial positions at daily newspapers in Ottawa and Toronto

editorial@siliconrepublic.com