Want consensus? Look to fish

Feb 06, 2012
Abaid, in the Dynamical Systems Lab at NYU-Poly

(PhysOrg.com) -- A flock of birds. A school of fish. An army of ants. Glance at these groupings and they appear to move in unison effortlessly. Take a closer look and you’ll see an intricate symphony of leaders and followers, cues and signals, consensus building and decision-making.

Nicole Abaid, a PhD student in the Polytechnic Institute of New York University’s (NYU-Poly) Mechanical Engineering program, is helping to better understand how agents (the bird, the fish or the ant) in such systems influence the collective actions of the group. Scientists and engineers can use the information to protect animals by steering them away from hazards like an oil spill by introducing a robotic animal to the group that mimics the movements of its natural counterpart.

In November, Abaid’s paper, “Influence of Leaders on Mean Square Consentability in Biologically-Inspired Stochastic Networks,” co-written with NYU-Poly Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Maurizio Porfiri, won the best student paper award at the ASME Dynamic Systems and Control Conference in Virginia.

The paper put forth an algorithm called a consensus protocol that describes a group of agents who are trying to agree on a decision by interacting in the group and with external leaders. The novel part of their work is that how the agents select with whom to interact is inspired by how animals perceive numbers. Their protocol can help determine how long it takes for a group to reach an agreement, such as which direction to travel.

Abaid’s paper, and the research she conducts in Porfiri’s Dynamical Systems Lab, is based on fish. “We write mathematical equations inspired by animal behavior and psychology that can generate patterns like those we see in fish schools,” explains Abaid. “We also extract patterns from large data sets, for example from videos of fish schools, to better understand the phenomena that govern such behaviors.”

The lab’s use of robotic fish alongside live was one of the reasons Abaid chose to join NYU-Poly four years ago, saying it “sounded incredibly exciting.”

Abaid grew up in Florida and earned her BS in mathematics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MA in mathematics from the University of Kansas. She says that one of the challenging aspects of her research is solving problems that she isn’t sure she has a solution for. “I spend time understanding what I know, what I don’t know, and what I want to know to organize my thinking.” She notes that, “to make the jump from not-knowing to knowing may require a lot of creativity.” Her technique: pretend a solution exists and just try to uncover it.

Abaid’s PhD work also involved three years as a GK-12 fellow with the National Science Foundation-funded AMPS program NYU-Poly Professor Vikram Kapila directs. Abaid taught mechatronics lessons and coached LEGO robotics teams in local K-12 schools as part of her fellowship.

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Provided by Polytechnic Institute of New York University

4 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Follow the (Robotic) Leader (w/ Video)

Jun 07, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Artificial intelligence? Done. Artificial leadership? Its origins may well be in the fish tanks and the algorithms in Maurizio Porfiri’s Brooklyn laboratories at Polytechnic Institute of ...

How fish swim: Imaging device shows contribution of fins

Apr 22, 2011

There are fish tales and then there are fish tails. And a report from Harvard researchers in the current issue of the journal Biology Letters seems to demonstrate that previous theories about how bony fish mo ...

Fish jump into picture of evolutionary land invasion

Oct 06, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Research sometimes means looking for one thing and finding another. Such was the case when biology professor Alice Gibb and her research team at Northern Arizona University witnessed a small ...

Is there a hidden bias against creativity?

Nov 18, 2011

CEOs, teachers, and leaders claim they want creative ideas to solve problems. But creative ideas are rejected all the time. A new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the ...

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Feb 06, 2012
The labs use of robotic fish alongside live fish

Unfortunately sooner or later the fishing industry is going to pick up on this.

Fly a plane over the ocean and drop a few of these suckers. Then have them take control over some swarm of fish they encounter. Now just make the swarm come to you (instead of having expensive fishing fleets you just need a stationary net). End of food chain.

Just don't filet the robo-fish.

On the flip side: Swarm intelligence has a lot of uses when thinking about distributed robotics in building, disaster first response, advanced avionics, ...

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...