Friday, December 06, 2013

The Pigeon-Guided Missiles and Bat Bombs of World War II

The man behind Project Pigeon was famed American behaviorist and Harvard professor B.F. Skinner, who teamed with the U.S. Army to develop such a system. Pigeons were trained using operant conditioning, a type of learning pioneered by Skinner in 1937 where behavior is modified by its consequences. In operant conditioning, the initial behavior is spontaneous, but when it is either rewarded or punished, that behavior is either reinforced or inhibited. In this case, Skinner rewarded pigeons for pecking an image on a screen to get them conditioned to do it. Skinner then designed a nose cone for missiles that had three windows for the pigeon (or up to three pigeons in some tests) to look through. Via the flight control system and a metal piece on the nose of the pigeon(s) to detect a peck, the pecking of the windows would result in the missile changing course, depending on which window was pecked and where on the window the pecking happened. The pigeons were then trained to peck such that the target, whatever object the pigeon was conditioned to go for, stayed centered in front of the missile. more

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