Starlings, Self-Driving and Rule-Breaking: Finding Inspiration

Starlings murmurating has got to be one of the most spellbinding sights nature has to offer.

Sorry, wait, what… murmurating?

Yes, forming complex, ever-changing sculptures in flight. Never colliding, changing direction on a whim and ceasing as abruptly as they start.

Apparently, scientists are studying these behaviours for clues to use for better self-driving cars, for organising roads for self-driving cars and for drone delivery services.

In fact, they are looking at a few species to figure out how so many of them can move in concert so easily: sardines and bats included.

Who’s Driving?

It’s a great example of how something radical and new turns out to be not so new at all. In London, the tube only has drivers because the public finds driverless trains alarming. We’ve had the tech for some driverless vehicles for a while.

And to make it work, we turn to a model that already exists to see what we can borrow, steal or adapt. This is the story of creativity, the story of innovation. You have to go pretty far down the list of things invented to hit stuff that is even close to being unique… like the wheel!

It’s Right In Front Of You

Most often, the answers we seek are available in another form, or as part of another ‘thing’, right in front of us. One of the key skills of renowned thinkers is the ability to see beyond our day to day categorisations and find commonalities between non-related objects and ideas (hence the term thinking-out-the-box).

But what stops most people from engaging in this kind of cross border raiding? Well, that’s an interesting question. It never occurs to some of us because we believe in or respect the divisions. Our world view is one of order, where things have a place, and that they never leave it. Perhaps we’re simply not curious enough, don’t believe ourselves to be smart enough.

There Are No Muses

The genius of an original thinker is often simply daring to go somewhere that other thinkers have not. So, you need to be brave, you need to see connections and yes, you need to be OK with finding nothing a lot of the time.

The Starlings may not have an answer for self-driving cars. But while investigating this, scientists are learning a lot more about flocking and mass behaviour than has ever been known. And if that existing little puzzle doesn’t provide the exact answer needed, the process of looking informs the longer process of finding the answer. In short, all knowledge gained helps.

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