Robots help bees and fish communicate

James Marshall
March 23, 2019

The Austrian bees synced up their behavior with Swiss fish by communicating through robot "translators", which allowed the two species to understand each other's behaviors and soon had them moving in a similar fashion.

Bees and fish can now converse with each other thanks to new robotics technology designed by researchers in Europe.

"We created an unprecedented bridge between the two animal communities, enabling them to exchange some of their dynamics", lead author Frank Bonnet, from the Biorobotics laboratory (BioRob) at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, said in a statement. Previously, the experimental robots had only been sent in to infiltrate single-species animal groups in order to influence their behavior, blending in with unsuspecting clusters of cockroaches and chicks.

For this latest study, the team of engineers took things a little further by connecting the fish remotely with a colony of bees living on a platform of robot terminals on each side, which they naturally tend to swarm around.

The robots released into each group emitted signals specific to that species; the machine in the school of fish emitted visual signals such as different shapes and colours, as well as behavioural signals such as vibrations or tail movements, while the bee robot emitted signals through vibrations and air movements.

Researchers developed a robotic fish capable of embedding with schools to translate signals and influence behavior. The bee robots vibrated, changed temperature, and produced air movements.

Both groups of animals responded to the signals; the fish started swimming in a given direction and the bees started swarming around just one of the terminals.

Each robot recorded the movement of the group, and then translated and delivered it to the other robot, which shared the message with the other group. The fish began swimming around their tank in a counterclockwise direction, while the bees swarmed around one of their robotic terminals.

'The robots acted as if they were negotiators and interpreters in an worldwide conference, ' Francesco Mondada, a professor at BioRob, told TechXplore.

Despite being 700 kilometers (435 miles) apart and experiencing the world differently, the two species communicated. "Through the various information exchanges, the two groups of animals gradually came to a shared decision".

"The species even started adopting some of each other's characteristics", Mondada marveled.

Publishing in Science:Robotics, the researchers suggested their work "may open the door for new forms of artificial collective intelligence...which could find applications in selective "rewiring" of ecosystems".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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