- Researchers created a bridge between two extremely different species of animals, using robots.
- The bridge enabled both animal groups to interchange some of their dynamics and reach a shared decision.
Robotics has become a crucial tool in analyzing animal behavior. In recent years, robots have been introduced into certain families of animals by developing them to emit particular signals which are used by the animals to interact with each other.
These robots can simply be an observer or act on specific animal behaviors to simulate predator-prey interactions. They can also socially interact in groups of animals by mimicking some of the signals used during social interactions.
Recently, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Switzerland performed an experiment in which they were able to make two different species of animals interact with each other with the help of special robots. They created a bridge between two animal groups, enabling them to interchange some of their dynamics and reach a shared decision.
How Did They Do It?
Fish and bees do not usually meet, nor they have much to communicate if they did. However, the research team made these extremely different species exchange information with each other: they transmitted cues back and forth through robots.
Researchers have already tested their ‘spy’ robots on groups of chicks and cockroaches. In 2018, they placed one of these robots with a school of fish in a circular aquarium. Surprisingly, the robot was able to make all fish swim in a given direction.
This time, the researchers took one step ahead: they connected the school of fish and robot with a group of bees in a lab. Both groups of animals were nearly 430 miles apart.
The robot terminals placed with a group of bees emitted signals in the form of temperature variation, vibrations, and air movements. Whereas the robots in a school of fish emitted visual and behavioral signals. The visual signals account for stripes, colors, and shapes while the behavioral signal carries information related to vibrations, acceleration and tail movements.
Image credit: Courtesy of researchers | EPFL
Both animal groups responded to these signals: the bees started swarming around a particular terminal while the fish started swimming in a given direction. The robots captured dynamic of both groups, interchanged data with each other, and converted the received data into signals suitable for the associated species.
The communication was ‘disordered’ for the first 25 minutes, but later both groups showed synchronized actions: All bees swarmed around a single terminal and all the fish swam in an anticlockwise direction.
In fact, the species began adopting a few characteristics of other the group. The fish started swimming together more than usual, and the bees became more restless and less likely to swarm together.
The outcomes demonstrate the feasibility of creating and controlling behavioral patterns in biohybrid groups of different species. Such connections between different kinds of species and diverse robotic systems could open the door for new types of artificial collective intelligence, which can improve autonomous decision-making using the perceptual capabilities of animals and their brains.
The study could be used to develop techniques for monitoring natural habitats. For example, scientists could direct pollinators toward organic crops and encourage birds to avoid airports and related dangers.