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Sheepdogs could lose their jobs to robots after scientists learned the secret of their herding ability.

Rounding up sheep successfully is a simple process involving just two basic mathematical rules, a study found.

One causes a sheepdog to close any gaps it sees between dispersing sheep. The other results in sheep being driven forward once the gaps have sufficiently closed.

A computer simulation showed that obeying these two rules alone allowed a single shepherd – or sheepdog – to control a flock of more than 100 animals.

The discovery has implications for human crowd control as well as the development of robots that can gather and herd livestock, the scientists said. […]

To conduct the study, the researchers fitted a flock of sheep and a sheepdog with backpacks containing highly accurate GPS satnavs.

Movement-tracking data from the devices was programmed into computer simulations to develop the mathematical shepherding model.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the researchers concluded: “Our approach should support efficient designs for herding autonomous, interacting agents in a variety of contexts.

"Obvious cases are robot-assisted herding of livestock, and keeping animals away from sensitive areas, but applications range from control of flocking robots, cleaning up of environments and human crowd control."

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