Engineers Teach a Drone To Herd Birds Away From Airports Autonomously

Engineers Teach a Drone To Herd Birds Away From Airports Autonomously
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Tech Xplore: Engineers at Caltech have developed a new control algorithm that enables a single drone to herd an entire flock of birds away from the airspace of an airport. The algorithm is presented in a study in IEEE Transactions on Robotics. Herding relies on the ability to manage a flock as a single, contained entity -- keeping it together while shifting its direction of travel. Each bird in a flock reacts to changes in the behavior of the birds nearest to it. Effective herding requires an external threat -- in this case, the drone -- to position itself in such a way that it encourages birds along the edge of a flock to make course changes that then affect the birds nearest to them, who affect birds farther into the flock, and so on, until the entire flock changes course. The positioning has to be precise, however: if the external threat gets too zealous and rushes at the flock, the birds will panic and act individually, not collectively.

To teach the drone to herd autonomously, Soon-Jo Chung, an associate professor of aerospace, and his colleagues [...] studied and derived a mathematical model of flocking dynamics to describe how flocks build and maintain formations, how they respond to threats along the edge of the flock, and how they then communicate that threat through the flock. Their work improves on algorithms designed for herding sheep, which only needed to work in two dimensions, instead of three. Once they were able to generate a mathematical description of flocking behaviors, the researchers reverse engineered it to see exactly how approaching external threats would be responded to by flocks, and then used that information to create a new herding algorithm that produces ideal flight paths for incoming drones to move the flock away from a protected airspace without dispersing it. The team tested the algorithm on a flock of birds near a field in Korea and found that a single drone could keep a flock of dozens of birds out of a designated airspace. The effectiveness of the algorithm is only limited by the number and size of the incoming birds.





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