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How to make a robot sheepdog

Sep 01, 2014

Scientists have come up with a mathematical model of the way border collies herd sheep.

In the film ‘Babe’ a pig was trained to herd sheep, and in reality researchers from the University of Swansea believe robots could be trained to do the same thing. They wouldn’t use any magic words though, but an algorithm the scientists came up with after strapping GPS technology to sheepdogs and analysing the way they moved. This revealed that sheepdogs always try and close the gaps between flocks of sheep, and in response the sheep move closer together to avoid danger – which is called the ‘selfish herd’ theory. Once most of the gaps are closed, the sheepdog can then force all the sheep in one direction together.
But while the scientists say it would be easy to use this algorithm to program robots, sheepdogs might not be out of a job just yet, as many farmers say they have a special bond with their sheepdogs they don’t think they could get with a robot. The technology could have other uses though, such as building robots that could control crowds, or sweep together patches of oil when cleaning up oil slicks.

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