Science 3 min read

Robots Enable Bees and Fish To Talk To Each Other

This new study could give researchers new found insight into how animals communicate with one another. ¦ Leonardo Gonzalez /

This new study could give researchers new found insight into how animals communicate with one another. ¦ Leonardo Gonzalez /

Bees and Fishes are poles apart in the animal kingdom. But scientists at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have figured out a way for the two dissimilar species to interact and reach a shared decision.

Researchers from EPFL teamed up with four other European universities on an imaginative experiment under ASSISIbf – a project which involves using AI to learn animal behavior.

Their goal was simple; to get a group of bees in Austria to communicate with a specific fish in Switzerland. So, the scientists created robots to serve as an intermediary between the two species. Incredibly, it worked.

Not only were the animals able to transmit signals – regardless of the distance – but they also gradually started coordinating their decisions. Think of it as two individuals in a different part of the world having a simple phone conversation.

In a statement to the press, a researcher at EPFL’s Mobile Robots Group (MOBOTS), Frank Bonnet said:

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

Sounds like a bit of a stretch, doesn’t it? So, let’s take it back to the beginning.

A Spy Robot to Infiltrate the Animal World

A couple of years ago, researchers at MOBOTS unveiled robots that were designed to infiltrate a group of animals and influence their behavior. As unlikely as it seemed at the time, the spy robot succeeded.

Not only did the robot blend with a community of cockroaches and chicks, but it also infiltrated a school of fishes in an aquarium. Even better, the robot convinced the fishes to swim in a specific direction.

So, the researchers thought; why not take it further? And they did.

The scientists connected the robot and school of fish with a colony of bees in a laboratory in Austria. The bees also had two spy robot terminals in their midst.

Acting As an Intermediary

Within a short while, both robots started emitting signals that were specific to their species. While the robot in the school of fishes emitted visual and behavioral signals, the colony of bees robot emitted vibrations, air movement, and variations.

In response to the signal, the bees swarmed around just one of the terminals. The fish, on the other hand, began swimming in a specific direction.

During this period, the robots in both groups recorded and exchanged data about their group dynamics. They then translated the received information into signals that are unique to the corresponding species.

Francesco Mondada, a professor at BioRob, said:

“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.”

After almost 30 minutes of sharing information, the animals in both groups became synchronized. The school of fishes swam in a counterclockwise direction, while the colony of bees swarmed around one of the terminals.

Bonnet further noted that:

“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.”

The Implication of the Study

Findings from the study can help biologists understand animal behavior and how individual organisms interact within the ecosystem.

Also, robotics engineer can develop machines that can adequately capture and translate biological signals.

Read More: Why Experts Think we Should be Taxing Robots

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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    Paul Weidner April 07 at 11:32 am GMT

    Spy robots are really cool.

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