Superstitious Pigeons

By Anupum Pant

B.F. Skinner was an American psychologist, a behaviorist, and a social philosopher. He was also the inventor of the operant conditioning chamber – A.K.A the Skinner box, is a box which is used to study animal behaviour. For example, you can use it to train an animal to perform certain actions in response to some input, like light or sound.

Using one of his favourite animals, he designed an experiment where he trained a pigeon in order to examine the formation of superstitious beliefs in animals. Here’s what he did.

He placed a couple of pigeons in his setup which was designed to deliver food to them after certain intervals. Of all the things, the timing of food delivery by this apparatus wasn’t related to one thing for sure – behaviour or actions of the bird.

And yet, after some time in this automated setup, the pigeons developed certain associations which made them belief that the food came when they did something. They had developed superstitious beliefs.

For instance:

One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. A third developed a ‘tossing’ response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly. Two birds developed a pendulum motion of the head and body, in which the head was extended forward and swung from right to left with a sharp movement followed by a somewhat slower return. – Wikipedia

The bird behaviour isn’t much different from what humans do…

The pigeons started believing in a causal relationship between its behaviour and delivery of food, even when there was nothing like that.

It’s almost like the humans blowing on the dice, or throwing it harder to make a favourable number appear. Even when blowing or throwing a dice harder doesn’t hold any causal relationship with the event of good numbers turning up.

During other times, when people bowl down a bowling ball and twist  their bodies towards right to make the ball go right, they have in fact unknowingly developed a superstitious belief, just like the pigeons that there’s a causal relationship between turning their bodies and curving of the bowling ball. In reality, there’s nothing like that. The ball goes where it has to, irrespective of how they turn their bodies.

Just like in the superstitious pigeon’s case, the food would have appeared anyway. The pigeon didn’t have to do something to get it.

via [Wikipedia]

Drones beyond Amazon’s Drone Delivery System

By Anupum Pant

For a long time I’ve had this idea noted in a file and the hottest news from Amazon, linked to a “revolutionary drone accomplishment”, pushed me into writing it down. Since I cover topics ranging from a gamut of areas in the name of science, I thought, through this article, it would be appropriate for me to enable my readers see beyond an ongoing viral news topic – The unveiling of Amazon’s drone delivery. If you haven’t seen it already, you’ll find the video here. [Video] [details here]

Long before Amazon released its concept of Premier Air, 30 minute delivery, the idea – usage of drones for things you wouldn’t have thought of – has been tested or put to use in several related ways. Some of the reported tests and uses of drones are as follows:

Drones for food delivery: During June 2013, with an idea (read: PR stunt) that would inspire Amazon in the future, Dominos U.K. released a test video of the “DomiCopter”. In the video they showed an unmanned drone picking up a Pizza and delivering it to the customer without having to encounter any traffic in between. Slick! But, that isn’t all.
A year before this, Taco delivering drones as well as a Burrito bomber drones were also seen. All of them had gone viral. Yet, we still have a long way to go to see these delivery systems working legally.

Mosquito killers: A North Florida-based company that supplies drones for military missions, showed a drone that would speed up detection of stagnant water. As a result, helping the authorities cut mosquito breeding grounds in Florida.

Hover Cameras: Golf channel tested a new way of filming golf tournaments using drones this year. Besides that, we’ve seen drones being used for sports photography and journalism too.

Drone Waiters: To promote a new product, YO! Sushi, a London restaurant started using ‘flying trays’ for bringing burgers to their customers. These flying trays were nothing but drones carrying food trays. Also, it increased their speed ‘exponentially’.

Drone Constructors: This project dates back to the year 2010-11. Two architects, Garamazio and Kohler demonstrated aerial construction using unmanned drones. However, they demonstrated building process for a heavily scaled down version of a building using foam bricks. Nevertheless, it was an achievement in the year 2011, when QuadroCopters were just starting to get popular.

Although we have seen a lot of unusual uses for drones being demonstrated all around the globe (many more creative uses remain to be seen), we are yet to see their practical implementation; especially for projects like the Amazon drone delivery, which require drones to move around in a complicated airspace (in terms aviation rules).

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is actively working on rules for unmanned aerial vehicles. Still we won’t see drones moving around legally and freely, any time before 2015.

Everything else you’d want to know about drones: PopSci