Honey bees do a little movement called the waggle dance to alert each other to new food sources. Can a robot learn the boogie?
The humble honey bee is thought to have one of the most complex communication systems -- some even go so far as to call it a language -- of any animal. A bee who has found a rich food source can fly back to her hive, communicate to other bees the exact location of the food, and a few minutes later her nestmates will head out directly to her find.
How does she do it? Bees communicate through a series of movements called the "waggle dance," first described by Austrian scientist Karl von Frisch. Scientists understand some of the basic mechanics of the dance, but in order to tease out its subtleties a group of researchers at the Free University of Berlin are working on a robotic bee. If the researchers can figure out the waggle dance, their little robot will be able to communicate with the real bees about a new food source. The singularity is near! (For bees.)
The waggle dance follows something like a figure-eight pattern. The middle part of the eight (called the waggle run) is oriented relative to gravity at the same angle the bees should fly relative to the sun in order to get to the food. The speed of the dance is thought to communicate the distance. It's basic geometry: Once the bees know the angle to fly and the distance, they can find the food.