Researchers are using imprinting to get chickens to adopt a robot as their mother. I’m told the goal is to develop robots that behave with the complexity of living beings so they can interact more realistically with actual animals. Researchers from several universities in Europe are behind the idea to better understand the complex behaviors of animals, particularly those that are manifested in groups. As I understand it, the plan includes getting the robots in front of the chicks shortly after birth so the imprinting can begin, since within five hours chicks begin to grow very attached to their mother, or in this case the robot. Interestingly, the chicks instincts are so strong that anyone or thing could fill in as the role model. According to researchers, while the majority of chicks imprint on the robot, they imprint on it to different degrees, which is important because that influences the dynamics of the group. Keep in mind that some chicks follow the robot but others will follow other chicks, meaning there is organized chaos, which is what the study is about. Like all science these days, algorithms are used and in this case they can calculate the speed and acceleration of every chick, classifying how each is behaving, which allows researchers to determine the extent to which the chicks are being indoctrinated by the robot in their acceptance of the fake mother. The teams are hoping to unravel the keys to flocking behaviors, helping to build a better robot which animals are willing to accept as a safe haven. Developing this area will allow scenarios where robots could lead animals to a food source or a medical treatment area without undue stressing on the animals. I can already see the how this type of research will one day tie in with sensors on each animal or pen allowing producers to simply check the status of each animal without being there, freeing up time to do other things. (Source: Wired)

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