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Robots ensure bees get the buzz

Provided By - Video Elephant on September 24, 2018
Can bees learn how to communicate with robots? Can robots learn how to interact with bees? Believe it or not, it is by answering these questions that European scientists think they can develop new technologies aimed, among other things, at better protecting the environment. Researchers in Graz, Austria build almost every day beehives like no other. Wax panels are installed above a fleet of small robots equipped with sensors. Complex bio-inspired algorithms help these robots send different physical stimuli to the insects. Researchers then study the reaction of the bees "As soon as we have the connection between insects and the computer, we can observe the flow of information much closer and find out how the bees save information, how they communicate the information, how they filter the information and all that leads to more understanding of these insect societies," says ASSISIBF Project coordinator and Biologist at the University of Graz, Thomas Schmickl. Scientists at this European research project have programmed the small robots to try to make bees respond to stimuli-like vibrations, changes in air flows and, especially, variations in temperature. "We have electronic parts inside the robots. We are able to warm these under certain temperatures. This is the method we use to warm up the robots. We warm them so that the bees are attracted to these warm points," says Systems Engineer at the University of Graz Ziad Salem. The next step is to program robots to somehow autonomously mimic the social behaviour learnt during their exchanges with bees. Scientists basically want robots to develop an autonomous collective swarm intelligence. "In temperature fields like the ones prevalent inside beehives, a single honey bee very often does not find the spot on her own where she needs to do the job. But if we have more bees working on the task, then they are successful. Because they work in a community. We try to reproduce in robots this example of collective swarm intelligence," says Biologist at the University of Graz Martin Stefanec. Scientists hope their small robots could one day help protect bees, currently under heavy environmental pressure. They see a future where sensor-equipped tiny robots could live inside beehives and exchange environmental data with the bees, like the eventual presence of pesticides or pollutants in the immediate environment. Wellbeing, protection and productivity of bee colonies could greatly improve, researchers say. "Lets suppose we have a long period of rain coming up in summer, or cold weather, which might mean that bees don't have enough to eat. If we could know that in advance from the robots, we could for example regulate the queen to lay fewer eggs and have fewer offspring so that the offspring that are already there can be taken care of in a better way before there is cannibalism, for example," says Biologist at the University of Graz Martina Szopek. Similar research is currently under way on fish species. Other than environmental protection, scientists hope their work will have an impact on fishing and livestock management, as well as on agriculture.

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