This new technology may sound like science fiction, but soon it will actually be reality: bees will receive an early warning in their beehive when there is danger nearby. They will be given information about imminent weather changes that could endanger their colony. And they will be directed to certain flowers for pollination. An international research team led by the University of Graz is working to develop a "Smart City" for bees that will help insects cope with adverse environmental influences. The EU project HIVEOPOLIS was recently launched with a funding volume of seven million euros. It is scheduled to run for five years.
Animals and robots can already communicate very well. The team around Thomas Schmickl, Professor of Zoology at the University of Graz and head of the Artificial Life Lab, has caused a worldwide sensation with this pioneer project. In a recent experiment, bees and zebrafish were able to communicate successfully with each other via robots, even over the hundreds of kilometres between Graz and Lausanne.
Now the scientists want to integrate their technology into the beehive. "Our goal is to provide insects with technologies that help them react in time to changes in the environment", explains Schmickl. Currently, the habitats of honeybees are severely threatened, leading to massive death and serious disruption of entire ecosystems.
Sensors will be used to regulate the temperature in the honeycomb and thus optimise conditions for rearing the offspring. Digital maps will provide information on pesticides in potential food sources and send a warning to the hive. Robots will imitate the bee dance – which, incidentally, was deciphered by Nobel Prize winner Karl von Frisch at the University of Graz – in order to give information to the bee colony. "We want to influence the direction in which the insects make their pollination flights", Schmickl explains. They have already investigated the possibilities of swarm control in a previous large-scale project called ASSISI.
The HIVEOPOLIS – i.e. "bee city" – project is running until 2024 in cooperation with five partner universities – École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, Freie Universität Brüssel, Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität Berlin, Lettland Landwirtschaftliche Universität, 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 be able to contribute to the development of a smart hive.