Robotic ‘biohybrid’ systems help researchers finely study bee behavior
The École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland announced that researchers from the institute have teamed up with researchers from the University of Graz in Austria to develop a robotic system that can be shaped into a beehive.
The system is composed of a combination of thermal sensors and actuators, and it measures and modifies bee behavior through local temperature variations.
“Many rules of bee society – from collective and individual interactions to raising healthy brood – are controlled by temperature, so we took advantage of that for this study,” said Rafael Barmak, first author of a research article published on the system in peer-reviewed journals. magazine science robotics,
According to Barmak, who is a PhD Scholar at EPFL, the thermal sensors create a snapshot of the bees’ collective behavior, and the actuators in the system allow researchers to influence their movement.
bees in winter
Unlike many other insects, bees do not hibernate or go dormant during the winter. During the winter, they create a “warm microclimate” inside the hive, according to PBS, and they live on the honey they store. Bees keep themselves and their nights warm by exercising. Yes, by exercising.
As a whole, bees inside the hive use their flight wings or flap them without flying. How to warm up a car engine with the engine in neutral. The precious heat they generate by doing so is retained by the bees by allowing only small holes in the nest. They use plant resins and gum to seal holes and cracks. They then group into a circular mass of bees.
By doing all this they can keep the temperature of the outermost parts of the hive above 10°C. According to a study published in Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, the minimum temperature predicted for the western bee is about 15 °C. Below that, it becomes difficult for man’s little friend to survive.
Studying bees during winter using a robotic system
According to EPFL, previous studies on the thermal behavior of bees in winter looked at bees manipulating outside temperatures. But the new system allows researchers to change the temperature from within the cluster. This is closer to how bees actually behave during the winter.
In a press statement, study co-author Martin Stefanek said, “Our robotic system enables us to change the temperature from within the cluster, simulating the heating behavior of core bees there, and allows us to study is how the winter cluster actively regulates its temperature.” , Stefanek is a PhD scholar at the University of Graz.
Bee colonies are already difficult to study. But it is even more difficult to study them during winter because they are sensitive to cold. But using the new robotic system, they were able to study three experimental hives located at the University of Graz in Austria, controlled remotely from the EPFL in Switzerland.
Using the robotics system, the researchers gathered information about the bees’ locations in the hive, and they were able to use actuators to encourage the bees to move around. Bees usually don’t do much during the winter, when they prefer to swarm together to conserve energy.
In short, the researchers were able to act on behalf of the colony. For example, they could direct bees to food sources. Interestingly, the researchers were able to prolong the survival of a colony after the death of its queen bee using the actuators by redistributing heat throughout the colony.
Such “biohybrid” systems open doors that could potentially be used to help bees survive better, according to researchers. This could prove particularly useful in a world where populations of important pollinators such as honeybees are facing a crisis, which could have large-scale food security implications.