Posted in | Remote Monitoring

Researchers Show How Bees and Fish can Communicate with Each Other with the Help of Robots

Bees and fish very rarely meet up with each other as they don’t have the occasion to do it frequently and even if they do meet, they would not really have much to say to each other.

Through an imaginative experiment, researchers were able to get two extremely different animal species located far apart to interact with each other and reach a shared decision with the help of robots. (Image credit: EPFL)

Engineers from EPFL, working under the ASSISIbf project, managed to get groups of bees and fish to talk with each other. The fish were located in Switzerland and the bees in Austria. With the help of robots, these two species were able to transfer signals back and forth to each other and they slowly started to organize their decisions. The study was featured in the March 20th issue of Science Robotics.

We created an unprecedented bridge between the two animal communities, enabling them to exchange some of their dynamics.

Frank Bonnet, Researcher, Mobile Robots Group (MOBOTS), EPFL.

MOBOTS is presently part of the school’s Biorobotics Laboratory (BioRob).

MOBOTS researchers have designed robots capable of merging into groups of animals and influencing their behavior. These robots were tested on communities of chicks, cockroaches, and very recently on fish. One of these “spy” robots had the potential to infiltrate a school of fish in a spherical aquarium and make them swim in a specific direction.

For this research, engineers went one step further with the fish experiment. The researchers linked the robot and school of fish with a colony of bees located in a laboratory in Graz, Austria. The bees lived on a platform with robot terminals on either side, which they naturally incline to swarm around.

Behaving as a Go-Between

The robots within both the groups of animals released signals pertaining to that species. Both visual and behavioral signals were emitted by the robot in the school of fish. The visual signals were based on different colors, stripes, and shapes, and the behavioral signals were related to vibrations, accelerations, and tail movements. In the bee colony, the robots emitted signals mostly in the form of temperature variations, air movements, and vibrations. Both groups of animals were able to respond to the signals—the fish began swimming in a specific direction and the bees began swarming around just one of the terminals. The robots in both the groups recorded the dynamics of each group, exchanged that data with each other, and finally translated the data received into signals suitable for the corresponding species.

The robots acted as if they were negotiators and interpreters in an international conference. Through the various information exchanges, the two groups of animals gradually came to a shared decision.

Francesco Mondada, Professor, BioRob.

Even though they were some 700 km apart, both the animal species “talked” to each other during the experiment. The conversation was disordered initially but ultimately led to a specific amount of coordination. The animal groups were synchronized after 25 minutes. All the bees swarmed around one of the terminals and all the fish swam in a counterclockwise direction.

Swapping Specific Characteristics

The species even started adopting some of each other’s characteristics. The bees became a little more restless and less likely to swarm together than usual, and the fish started to group together more than they usually would.

Frank Bonnet, Researcher, Mobile Robots Group (MOBOTS), EPFL.

The outcomes of this study could help robotics engineers to come up with an efficient way for machines to capture and translate biological signals. The study could also help biologists to improve their understanding of animal behavior and how individuals in an ecosystem interact. Furthermore, the study could also be used to produce monitoring techniques for natural habitats by using animals’ excellent sensory capabilities. For example, scientists may perhaps encourage birds to avoid airports and the associated hazards or direct pollinators away from crops with pesticides and toward organic crops.

(Video credit: EPFL)


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