Fish and bees seem to have nothing in common, but in a new experiment, these species are able to actually communicate with each other.
Using a robot translator, engineers from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne and four other universities are able to make the unimaginable possible. The animals are able to transmit signals back and forth, subsequently resulting in them demonstrating coordinated decisions.
Robots that are made for animal communication usually involve one species only. This creates a research limitation, in terms of introducing unique species-reliant perceptual abilities and the kinds of behaviors in the same system. Scientists have tried such robots in groups of chicks, cockroaches, and fish. The most recent one is a fish experiment, wherein the robots act as spies and are able to direct the fish to move in a certain direction.
In the new study, the researchers take it a notch higher by involving honeybees and zebrafish, which are two completely different animal groups that do not seem to have any way of communication, or even a word to say to one another.
Connecting Different And Distant Species
Just when the experiment can't get any more bizarre, the scientists decide to perform the test in two different locations. The fish are from Switzerland, and the bees are from Austria.
The robot translator in each of the animal group released signals unique to the species. For the fish, the robots emitted visual and behavioral cues, such as colors and tail movements respectively. For the bees, the robots primarily emitted vibrations, temperature changes, and air movements. Both groups reacted to the signals, such that the fish swam in a particular direction and the bees swarmed around one of the robot terminals in place. The robots documented the response of the groups, exchanged the information with each other, and translated the data into signals that match the corresponding species.
Fish And Bees Communicating And Sharing Decisions
The start of the experiment was chaos, but after about 25 minutes, the animals showed coordinated responses, wherein all the fish swam in counterclockwise direction, and the bees headed to one of the robot stations.
"The robots acted as if they were negotiators and interpreters in an international conference," says Francesco Mondada, a professor at the BioRobotics Laboratory of EPFL. He adds that the two different animal species slowly came up with a shared decision through the information exchanges that took place.
Frank Bonnet, the study's corresponding author, researcher at EPFL's Mobile Robots Group, and now part of BioRobotics Laboratory says that the robot translators are also able to promote characteristics swapping, as manifested by the bees showing decreased agitation, and the fish grouping together more than usual.
Future Is Bright For Robotics And Biology
The experiment may aid robotics experts to come up with an efficient technique for machines to obtain and translate signals. Biologists may benefit too as the study may help them better comprehend animal behavior and interaction.
The possibilities are numerous. The research team also believes that their work can also help develop strategies for studying natural habitats by utilizing animals' unique sensory abilities. For example, experts can drive birds to refrain from flying above airports, and direct pollinators to stay away from crops with pesticides.
The study is published in Science Robotics.