US Navy Studies Pigeons for Planes
Researchers at Harvard University, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have launched a project to deconstruct just exactly how pigeons fly, and how they manage to make their way at high speed through “cluttered terrain”. Researchers created an artificial forest at Harvard’s Concord Field Station (which is in Bedford), and they are recording the flight and head movements of the pigeons. Russ Tedrake, an MIT professor said that “people would have a very hard time navigating the same kind of obstacles at the same speed. It would be like hurtling down a wooded mountainside on a bike and trying to avoid the trees”. The project is funded by the Office of Naval Research.
The US Navy, like other branches of the armed services, is trying to design ever-tinier spy planes that can be used to gather data without being detected – and pigeons, with their incredible flying skills, are the perfect model. Pigeons take in information quickly and accurately and then make rapid decisions based on that information. In the first six months of research, scientists have determined that the pigeons probably do not think ahead - they respond to the tree right in front of them, for instance, rather than planning their whole route through a forest.