Monday, August 29, 2011


 From New Scientist, a report on a kind of insect chatterbot:
Tim Landgraf of the Free University of Berlin in Germany and colleagues have programmed their foam RoboBee, to mimic the dance. RoboBee is stuck to the end of a rod attached to a computer, which determines its "dance" moves. The rod is also connected to a belt which makes it vibrate. Like a real bee, it can spin, buzz its wings, carry scents and droplets of sugar water, and give off heat.
To program RoboBee, Landgraf took high-speed video of 108 real waggle dances, and put the footage through software that analysed the dances in detail (PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021354). The outcome is "the most detailed description so far of the waggle dance", says Christoph Grüter of the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, who was not involved in the study.
Despite its realism, RoboBee may not have passed the bee Turing Test: 
In a field outside Berlin, Landgraf trained groups of honeybees to use a feeder, which he then closed. The bees stopped foraging and stayed in their hives. There they met RoboBee, which had been programmed with Landgraf's best guess at a waggle dance pointing to another feeder, which the bees had never visited.
The bees responded by leaving the hive, but returned to their old feeders. For now, it looks like RoboBee persuaded them to forage, but failed to communicate where to go. The team is confident RoboBee didn't just scare away the foragers, as honeybees respond to intruders by stinging, not fleeing...
Its Achilles heel, though, may be a lack of legs: some studies suggest there is a tap-dance element to the dance.
Pictures and clips of the robot can be found on the project's official website

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