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Could robots replace sheepdogs in science breakthrough?

Sheepdogs follow just two simple rules when rounding up large herds of sheep, scientists have learned for the first time. They say the findings could lead to the development of robots that can gather and herd livestock, crowd control techniques, or new methods to clean up the environment.

Could sheepdogs eventually be replaced by robots?

Until now, scientists had no idea how the dogs manage to get so many unwilling sheep to move in the same direction. Credit: Stephen Hailes

Sheepdogs follow just two simple rules when rounding up large herds of sheep, scientists have learned.

Dr Andrew King, of Swansea University, fitted a flock of sheep and a sheepdog with backpacks containing extremely accurate GPS devices, designed by colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College in London.

Daniel Strömbom, of Uppsala University, and colleagues then used data from the devices, together with computer simulations, to develop a mathematical shepherding model.

They discovered sheepdogs collect the sheep when they’re dispersed and drive them forward when they’re aggregated. In the model, a single shepherd could herd a flock of more than 100 individuals using these two simple rules.

Scientists say the findings could lead to the development of robots that can gather and herd livestock, crowd control techniques, or new methods to clean up the environment.

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