Innovation

Your new driverless car is inspired by penguins

By Oliver Smith 30 January 2017
Summary

Yes, penguins.

Nature provides marvellous inspiration for technology, just look at the sticky plant seeds which led to the creation of velcro, or bats inspiring the discovery of sonar.

Now penguins are inspiring researchers looking into the field of driverless cars.

Penguins, if you didn’t know, have evolved very efficient hunting strategies.

Say there’s a waddle of 100 penguins – or 100,000 as they tend to live in massive colonies – how do the penguins ensure they collect enough food for everyone?

Nature’s answer

While scientists aren’t certain – they have yet to decipher the squarks and squeals of a penguin’s chatter – there appears to be a lot of communication going on. For example penguin hunting groups, dynamically change in size based on how large a shoal of fish they’re hunting, constantly optimising for the task at hand.

“[Their] solution has generic elements which can be abstracted and be used to solve other problems, such as determining the integrity of software components needed to reach the high safety requirements of a modern car.” Prof Yiannis Papadopoulos, a computer scientist at the University of Hull, told the BBC.

Today’s cars have about a million lines of code to run everything from the air conditioning to the in-car entertainment system.

The next generation of driverless cars will likely be vastly more complicated with computer programming running everything from steering to crucial braking controls.

Driverless by design

Papadopoulos and his team have now developed a penguin-inspired testing system for exactly these types of critical systems.

While existing manual testing is able to test the code that are in today’s cars, the penguin-based system is able to do a far better job at finding faults and optimising the code being used – just like penguins do in the real world.

Last year Papadopoulos published a paper on his testing system, which is called Penguins Search Optimisation Algorithm, or PeSOA, that described how it: “mimics the collaborative hunting strategy of penguins, using the metaphor of oxygen reserves as a search intensification operator.”

Don’t worry, no penguins will be harmed in the making of your next car, but the software that runs its most important systems could have been tested by a programme inspired by these flightless birds.

Just another brilliant example of how animals are inspiring technology.