Back to . . .  Deposit #66 Yun Wang A Simulation of Pursuit Curves

Be patient.  This file may be slow.
 Instructions required Scroll down the screen to find the buttons at the bottom of the blank white box on the right. Position both the red pursuer and green pursuee by first using the “Placement” button. Click on the empty canvas to place the red pursuer. Click, hold, and drag to see the green pursuee. Click on “Placement” again to place another pair of particles on the canvas. Enjoy! Investigate the particles you have placed on the screen. Your first particle will be colored red and will pursue the second particle. Your second particle will be colored green and will flee in the direction you set. If you double click on the particles it will bring up control sliders. The pursuer will be able to modify the speed of the pursuit. The pursuee will be able to modify the velocity of the particle (in x and y directions). After placing the particles on the screen, click on the "Start" button to begin the applet. More particles may be placed on the screen in pairs by again clicking on "Placement." If you wish to stop, simply click "Stop." If you wish to clear the particles,  click "Clear." You may wish to place several particles on the screen, simulate Zeno's ancient paradox, or try the other categories of pursuit curves listed below. Achilles and the Tortoise If the particles are placed at the bottom of the screen, and the velocities are adjusted to be 50%, as in Zeno's Paradox, then the viewer can enjoy seeing Achilles overtake the Tortoise! (Ha!) Calculus instructors often introduce the concept of convergence of infinite series - in this case, a convergent geometric series with  r = 1/2  - by having students discuss Achilles and the Tortoise. The paradox is more or less as follows:  Given a head start by the tortoise, Achilles, the fastest runner in Greece, can never catch the tortoise.  During the time it takes Achilles to cover the original distance, the tortoise has moved forward to a newer distance. Zeno of Elea was a Pythagorean.  His four paradoxes on the divisibility of motion, time and space were preserved by Aristotle in his Physics.

Historical Sketch:

An excellent overview of the history of pursuit curves is found in a series of articles written by Arthur Bernhart (University of Oklahoma) and published in Scripta Mathematica in the 1950s.  He organizes his review into four categories: pursuit curves where the pursued moves along a straight line; the chase takes place in a circular fashion; the race among several competitors is in a polygonal fashion; and finally, special cases involving dynamical pursuit with variable speeds, centers of gravity, and other aberrant properties.  This series of articles cuts across centuries of time, countries and languages.

A bit of historical background is fascinating.   The publications by Bernhart and several others often begin in antiquity with Zeno's solution to the classic Achilles and the Tortoise, mention the work of Leonardo da Vinci, and then move to a Frenchman, Pierre Bouguer (1698-1758) who expanded pursuit to two dimensions.  Interest crossed the border into Italy, where the problem became  curva di caccia,  and then into Germany where readers will find dachshunds in  Hundekurven problems.     Across the English Channel a spider was pursuing a fly in the well-known Ladies' Diary (1743,1750 and 1752).

I.  Category One:  One dimensional pursuit in a plane with a linear track and uniform speeds.

Let the point  Q move along a given tract  Q(t) while another point  P moves always in the direction  PQ  on  P(s).  If the velocity vector  dP/ds  has the same sense as  PQ, the locus  P(t) is called a  curve of pursuit,  otherwise a  curve of flight.

II.  Category Two:  Pursuit curves for a circular track.

"A dog at the center of a circular pond C makes straight for a duck which is swimming along the edge of the pond.  If the rate of swimming of the dog is to the rate of swimming of the duck as m : 1, determine the equation of the curve of pursuit and the distance the dog swims to capture the duck."

C is the center of the pond,  Q is the "quacker,"  and the point of attack is  K, which conveniently forms an inscribed right triangle.

American Mathematical Monthly, 27 (1920), p. 31
A. S. Hathaway, Houston, Texas
III.  Category Three:  Problems of triangular pursuit.

"Three dogs are placed at the three vertices of an  equilateral  triangle;  they run one after the other.  What is the curve described by each of them?
IV.  Category Four:  Differential equations valid for arbitrary track and variable speeds;
Miscellaneous problems sometimes confused with pure pursuit curves.

"Navigation:  Does one swimmer  P pursue another  Q  when his course is toward  Q  though his  heading is somewhat upstream?  If  P  swims through the water medium at speed  e,  and the current flows with speed f  at an angle  φ   with the desired course  PQ,  then  P  must head off course by a correction angle  ε  in order to make good his course.

 Important References for this Specific Table Bernhart, Arthur, "Curves of Pursuit," Scripta Mathematica,  20, 1954, pp. 125-141. Bernhart, Arthur, "Curves of Pursuit II," Scripta Mathematica,  23, 1957, pp. 49-65. Bernhart, Arthur, "Polygons of Pursuit," Scripta Mathematica,  24, 1959, pp. 23-50. Bernhart, Arthur, "Curves of General Pursuit," Scripta Mathematica,  24, 1959, pp. 180-206.

The opportunities for animation of pursuit curves are enormous.  The NCB invites faculty and students to try their hand at some of these problems as class projects.  Then hopefully you will add a "choice" effort to our NCB MATH Archive collection as a sampler of a fun activity from your campus.

Click on the stamp to see Zeno in Raphael's "School of Athens" near the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.