A robotic honeycomb for interaction with a honeybee colony
Robotic technologies have shown the capability to interact with living organisms and even to form integrated mixed societies composed of living and artificial agents. Biocompatible robots, incorporating sensing and actuation capable of generating and responding to relevant stimuli, can be a tool to study collective behaviors previously unattainable with traditional techniques. To investigate collective behaviors of the western honeybee (Apis mellifera ), we designed a robotic system capable of observing and modulating the bee cluster using an array of thermal sensors and actuators. We initially integrated the system into a beehive populated with about 4000 bees for several months. The robotic system was able to observe the colony by continuously collecting spatiotemporal thermal profiles of the winter cluster. Furthermore, we found that our robotic device reliably modulated the superorganism’s response to dynamic thermal stimulation, influencing its spatiotemporal reorganization. In addition, after identifying the thermal collapse of a colony, we used the robotic system in a “life-support” mode via its thermal actuators. Ultimately, we demonstrated a robotic device capable of autonomous closed-loop interaction with a cluster comprising thousands of individual bees. Such biohybrid societies open the door to investigation of collective behaviors that necessitate observing and interacting with the animals within a complete social context, as well as for potential applications in augmenting the survivability of these pollinators crucial to our ecosystems and our food supply.