Kinect used by scientists to study cannibalistic locusts

Ecologists from Princeton University are using computer-vision technology like the Xbox's motion-sensing camera, Kinect, to understand the behaviors of locust swarms so that they can forecast when the swarms might strike.

Ecologists from Princeton University are using computer-vision technology like the Xbox's motion-sensing camera, Kinect, to understand the behaviors of locust swarms so that they can forecast when the swarms might strike.

Locust swarms are responsible for countless deaths in West African countries because they they eat up all the crops and vegetation in their path. In studies using the Kinect, scientists are hoping to learn to forecast the swarms like one would forecast the weather.

"Computer vision has been very important to us. This is where you program a computer to see the world for us," said Princeton ecologist Iain Couzin, who has been using the Kinect to study the movements of the locusts.

Among his discoveries is that locusts of the western Sahara desert swarm not because they're communicating their movements through 'thought transference' like fish and bees, but because they're trying to not be eaten by other locusts.

"We just discovered by accident that the locusts were trying to eat each other," he said. "So when it looks like a cooperative swarm, in actual fact it's a selfish, sort of cannibalistic horde. Everyone is trying to eat everyone else and trying to avoid being eaten."

Using motion-capturing tools like the Kinect, Couzin and his team are able to collect a much more detailed set of data about the behavioral patterns of the locusts, which could potentially lead to a better preditive model that could help communities with their control measures if and when a locust swarm strikes.

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