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Robots at Work
Courtesy of New Scientist Magazine
By Mark Ward
In the next few weeks a team of researchers will make the first attempts to herd a flock
of ducks--with a robot.
Researchers from the Silsoe Research Institute and Oxford University Computing Laboratory,
have chosen ducks in the test because they react very like sheep, but move more slowly.
This means that robots can keep up with them.
The three-year research project is not designed to produce a finished product. Instead,
scientists are trying to discover if it is possible to create a robot that can quickly and
competently herd a flock of ducks into a predefined position. The trials will take place
in an indoor arena because the robot is not rugged enough to work outdoors.
The real robot will be successful because computer simulations of both robot and ducks
have worked well, say researchers. "So far we have only used simulated animals and
robots. We are now getting all the links sorted between the real and simulated
robot," says Stephen Cameron, one of the research team from the computing laboratory,
speaking at a conference on artificial life, in Brighton, last week.
In the simulations the ducks were made to flock realistically by using a few simple rules
first discovered by computer graphics researcher Craig Reynolds, in 1987. With these rules
Reynolds created a flock that flew together just like real birds.
"We're trying to produce a robot that reacts a little bit like a sheepdog," says
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