Scientists deploy robot ‘translators’ for interspecies communication & behavioral control

23 Mars, 2019, 16:11 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Large number of bees in a colony

The more imaginative among us might dream of a universal translator-like device that would allow humans to speak with animals, but in the real world a new robot breakthrough is able to help animals communicate with each other like never before.

Detailing its findings in Science Robotics, the team said bees in Austria and fish in Switzerland were able to transmit signals back and forth to each other through a number of robots until they eventually coordinated their decisions. "Through the various information exchanges, the two groups of animals gradually came to a shared decision", said Francesco Mondada of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, one of the researchers on the cleverly-named ASSISIbf experiment. Each group of animals had a robotic counterpart of themselves that would serve as a communication relay, connecting the two groups and, in turn, influencing their behavior.

While a terminal inside the bees' colony communicated by fluctuating air temperature, movement, and vibrations, the robot spy embedded in the school of fish changed its color, speed, and movements.

For the latest experiment, scientists chose to use the fish spy to help different species communicate.

In the experimental hive, the terminals delivered signals in the form of vibrations, temperature variations and air movements. Scientists used the terminals and fish spy to deliver signals and influence the different groups' behavior.

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Researchers developed robots to infiltrate a school of fish in an aquarium and get them to swim in a given direction.

The robots in the two groups recorded the dynamics of each group, exchanged that information with each other, and then translated the information received into signals appropriate for the corresponding species.

"The robots acted as if they were negotiators and interpreters in an global conference", said Francesco Mondada of EPFL's Biorobotics Laboratory (BioRob). "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".

Frank Bonnet of BioRob added: "The species even started adopting some of each other's characteristics". The fish began swimming around their tank in a counterclockwise direction, while the bees swarmed around one of their robotic terminals.

The results showed that despite being 700km apart, the two species were "talking" with one another after an initial period of chaos, followed by a certain amount of coordination. In the future, similar approaches could also aid conservation efforts by encouraging animals to stay in safe locations or employing them to monitor the environment.

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