Bees will be warned at an early stage of dangers in their environment, such as a change in the weather, or insects will be directed to blossom: what sounds like science fiction will soon become reality with a newly developed technology. An international research team led by the University of Graz wants to develop a "Smart City" for bees to support insects in coping with adverse environmental influences. The EU project "Hiveopolis" with a volume of seven million euros was recently launched and is scheduled to run for five years.
According to the university, the communication between animals and robots is already working very well. The team around Thomas Schmickl, Professor of Zoology at the University of Graz and head of the Artificial Life Lab, recently caused a sensation with an experiment in which bees and zebrafish successfully communicated with each other via robots, even over the hundreds of kilometres long distance between Graz and Lausanne.
Now the scientists want to integrate their technology into the beehive. "Our goal is to provide the insects with technologies that help them react in time to changes in the environment," explains Schmickl. This is because the habitats of honeybees are severely threatened, leading to massive deaths and serious disturbance of entire ecosystems.
Sensors will be used to regulate the temperature in the honeycomb and thus optimise the breeding of the offspring. Digital maps will provide information on pesticides in potential food sources and send a warning to the stick. Robots will imitate the bee dance - which was deciphered by the Nobel Prize winner Karl von Frisch, who works at the University of Graz - and thus inform the bee colony. "We want to influence where the insects make their pollination flights," said Schmickl. They have already investigated the possibilities of such swarm control in the previous large-scale ASSISI project.
Hiveopolis will be implemented by 2024 together with five partner universities - École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, Freie Universität Brüssel, Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität Berlin, Landwirtschaftliche Universität Latvia - and the Bulgarian company Bee Smart Technologies OOD. Interest groups such as beekeepers, farmers, programmers, environmentalists and educators will be involved in the research and development of a smart beehive.