Flocking

Sarus Cranes flying at Ranthambore

Sarus Cranes flying at Ranthambore

As we were driven around at Rathambore National Park, majestic flock of Sarus cranes, flying in some sort of synchronized pattern, above us caught our eye. Its humbling to think that a bird, with its small brain understand how to follow this pattern perhaps led by very few birds. As 2-3 leader birds make a sudden dash at 90 degree, others follow in perfect union, steady-fast behind. This behaviour is called flocking. It seems it has been demonstrated that flocking happens in humans too, if in a group 5% of the people suddenly make a run for it, others will follow.

 

Reminds me of an incident. During the last year of Engineering, 3 of my friends and I went on a trip to Bengaluru (Bangalore). During the trip we decided to watch “Gone in 60 seconds”. I still remember the scene. The group was about to break in a showroom to steal cars, when I heard a glass shattering sound. I was amazed at the sound quality, and was about to make a comment about it, when I suddenly see people leaving their seats and heading for the exit, I turned towards my friend and faced an empty seat, he was already jumping over seats a few rows ahead.. Not waiting any longer I jumped of my seat too rushing towards the exit.

 

Question

1. Why did I run?

 

Well thats flocking right? 5% of the group makes a break for it and suddenly we think they are smarter than the 95% of the group. However jokes aside, I guess it has to do with our instinct. We later learnt that the sandalwood smuggler Veerappan had kidnapped the famous south actor Rajkumar, and demonstrators had started appearing outside the cinema theater demanding a shutdown. That glass shattering sound was real! Those who have seen Zindagi na milage dobara will remember scenes where the 3 friends would pull someones leg by panicking over something and having a poor victim, follow their footsteps.

 

Flocking behaviour was first simulated on a computer as early as 1989 by Craig Reynolds with his simulation program called Boids (meaning cyber birds or bird-oids). The flocking behavior was governed by 3 basic rules.

 

– Cohesion: The attraction of the boids to each other.
– Alignment: The adjustment of each individual boid’s velocity to match up with the rest of the flock’s velocity.
– Separation: The avoidance of any direct collisions with any other boids.

 

You can search biods and you will find simulation programs which demonstrate the same. Amazing how much research has been done over a seemingly random behavior.

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