When Budgies Play Chicken

To avoid mid-air collisions, budgies always veer right, a tactic that could inform the design of autonomous flying drones.

AsianScientist (Oct. 6, 2016) – The reason why some birds never crash mid-flight is stunningly simple: they always veer right. These findings from Professor Mandyam Srinivasan’s laboratory at the Queensland Brain Institute in Australia have been published in PLOS One and could help improve automated anti-crash systems on aircraft.

Srinivasan said there was much for humans to learn from how bird flight had evolved over 150 million years. He added that birds must have been under strong evolutionary pressure to establish basic rules and strategies to minimize the risk of collision in advance. Yet, no previous studies have ever examined what happens when two birds fly towards each other.

In a series of experiments, Srinivasan’s team released pairs of budgerigars from the opposite ends of a tunnel, and filmed them with high-speed video cameras to observe their collision-avoiding strategies. The team recorded ten birds on 102 flights—and not a single collision was observed. His team discovered that the birds always veer right and sometimes change altitude according to some pre-set preferences.

“Another finding was that birds would rarely fly at the same height, and this raises the question of whether individual birds have a specific preference for flying higher or lower. It might be that their position in the group hierarchy determines their flight height. This is a question for further research,” Srinivasan said.

Srinivasan also said that while their study can’t say how birds solve the problem of switching to different altitudes, they can propose strategies for autopilot systems and unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent head-on collisions, especially as air traffic becomes increasingly busy worldwide.

The article can be found at: Schiffner et al. (2016) Strategies for Pre-Emptive Mid-Air Collision Avoidance in Budgerigars.


Source: University of Queensland; Photo: Pixabay.
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