Bees and fish are two radically different animal species that live in two different worlds, and while meeting face to face doesn’t happen, there’s nothing much they would say to one another if they did. Engineers from EPFL and other European universities, however, were able to bridge the communication between these two species using robot interpreters. Amazingly, the bees and fish were able to interact with each other and even coordinated to make decisions, such as the fish swimming in a given direction, while the bees started swarming around one of the robots.
Engineers from EPFL’s Mobile Robots Group (MOBOTS) designed a pair of spy robots to blend in with both communities and influence their behavior. On the fish side, the engineers created a robot similar to zebrafish, which were used in the experiment. The robot is equipped with magnets that link it to a small engine located underneath a fish tank, which allows it to “swim” with the other fish. The robot provided both visual signals- different shapes, colors, and stripes, along with behavior signals- accelerations, vibrations, and tail movements to communicate with the other fish.
As for the bees, the engineers developed static robots positioned in a hive-like setting, which emit signals in the form of vibrations, temperature changes, and air movements. Both species adapted quickly to the signals, while the robots recorded the dynamics of each group. The robots then transmitted that information to the other group and translated them to both species. It’s interesting to note that the groups were located several hundred miles from each other, with the bees residing in Austria, and the fish in Switzerland. It only took 25 minutes for both groups to synchronize with each other and make shared decisions together.
The experiment’s findings could help engineers design robots capable of capturing and translating biological signals and get a better understanding of animal behavior.