Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Flocking together: Study shows how animal groups find their way

04.02.2005


Discovery could be used in design of robotic explorers



A study led by Princeton biologists has revealed a remarkably simple mechanism that allows flocking birds, schooling fish or running herds to travel in unison without any recognized leaders or signaling system.

The finding, published in the Feb. 3 issue of Nature, helps settle age-old questions about how animals coordinate their actions. Previously, scientists had looked for subtle signals or other explicit systems that animals may use in disseminating information through groups. The new study showed that such complexity is not necessary: Large groups easily make accurate decisions about where to go even when no individuals are regarded as leaders and very few individuals have any pertinent information.


In addition to shedding light on the graceful coordination of animal groups, the results may be useful in understanding how humans behave in crowds and in designing robots that explore remote locations such as the ocean or other planets. "When you see apparently complex behaviors, the mechanisms that coordinate these behaviors may be surprisingly simple and generic," said Iain Couzin, a postdoctoral researcher in Princeton’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and lead author of the study.

Using computer simulations, the researchers found that group coordination arises naturally from two basic instincts: the need to stay in a group; and the desire by some individuals to act on their own information about where to go. First, the researchers programmed their simulated animals with a basic urge to stay near others, but not collide with them. This instinct alone caused individuals to form close-knit, evenly spaced groups like those of real animals, which pay a high price -- such as being eaten -- if they stray from their group.

Second, a few animals were programmed to have a preferred direction, as if aware of a food source or other valued destination. These animals were instructed to balance their desire to move toward their goal with their desire to stay in the group. In repeated simulations, it required only a few individuals with specific goals to set hundreds of others on the same course. "It demonstrates the power of the little guy," said Daniel Rubenstein, chair of ecology and evolutionary biology. "You don’t need avowed leaders, you don’t need complex signaling."

In the simulations, a small number of "informed" individuals was just about as effective in leading a large group as a small one. When the size of the group increased from 10 to 200, the percentage of informed individuals needed to accurately guide the group reduced from approximately 50 percent to less than 5 percent. As a result, the number of informed individuals required to lead a small group was about the same as the number needed to lead a large one, Couzin said

The researchers extended their experiments by introducing two subgroups with differing preferences about which direction to move. The overall group consistently chose the direction preferred by the bigger subgroup even if the two subgroups differed in size by only one member, demonstrating that groups can come to an accurate consensus decision even though individuals are not aware of the preferences of others or whether they are in a majority or minority.

Couzin, who divides his time between Princeton and Oxford University, collaborated with Simon Levin of Princeton as well as Jens Krause of the University of Leeds and Nigel Franks of the University of Bristol.

In addition to its biological insights, the research may provide ideas for designing robots that work together in groups, said Couzin, who has collaborated with roboticists at Princeton on designs for fleets of underwater vehicles. "Say you had a group of robots exploring a planet or the ocean, and each individual robot was moving around collecting information locally," he said. "By returning to the group and following the type of algorithm we propose, they could select collectively the direction associated with the best quality information or select collectively the majority direction."

Couzin and colleagues are now testing their findings in experiments with animals, such as schools of fish in which a few have been taught to seek food in a certain location. He also believes the results may shed light on how people move in crowds and is currently organizing experiments that test the principles in large groups of student volunteers.

Steven Schultz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.princeton.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Study relating to materials testing Detecting damages in non-magnetic steel through magnetism
23.07.2018 | Technische Universität Kaiserslautern

nachricht Innovative genetic tests for children with developmental disorders and epilepsy
11.07.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: It’s All in the Mix: Jülich Researchers are Developing Fast-Charging Solid-State Batteries

There are currently great hopes for solid-state batteries. They contain no liquid parts that could leak or catch fire. For this reason, they do not require cooling and are considered to be much safer, more reliable, and longer lasting than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Jülich scientists have now introduced a new concept that allows currents up to ten times greater during charging and discharging than previously described in the literature. The improvement was achieved by a “clever” choice of materials with a focus on consistently good compatibility. All components were made from phosphate compounds, which are well matched both chemically and mechanically.

The low current is considered one of the biggest hurdles in the development of solid-state batteries. It is the reason why the batteries take a relatively long...

Im Focus: Color effects from transparent 3D-printed nanostructures

New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference

Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Air pollution leads to cardiovascular diseases

21.08.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Researchers target protein that protects bacteria's DNA 'recipes'

21.08.2018 | Life Sciences

A paper battery powered by bacteria

21.08.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>