BYU students build robotic bee to communicate through ‘waggle dance’

Jul 20, 2023, 7:19 PM

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PROVO, Utah – Students at Brigham Young University have been hard at work cracking the code of the honeybees’ waggle dance and hope to take their research to the next level by communicating back to the bees.

“It’s this waggle that is able to convey to other bees where other food sources are,” said BYU computer science student Caelen Miller. “The angle that the bee waggles with respect to the top of the hive, is the same as the angle between the hive and sun.”

Inside a greenhouse on campus, the students set up a beehive with a glass covered section so that a camera can captures the bees’ waggle dance.

“It’s about one second of waggle dance per kilometer—from what we can tell right now,” Miller said.

The bees perform the waggle when they return from collecting nectar and pollen. Using computers, the students analyze the movements in real time.

“It reads both the distance that the bees waggle as well as the angle it’s waggling at,” said Tanner Day, who is also majoring in computer science. “From there, it extracts those parameters and sends it to another algorithm, which then uses that to essentially put a dot on a map.”

The students aren’t stopping there. The next step is attempting to give the bees directions to a specific location using a robotic bee.

“Which will allow us to control the bees and send them where we want to,” Miller said.

They’re still fine-tuning the robot bee so that it can correctly imitate sound, vibration, movement and how to give a taste of nectar.

“It will be exciting to see how well they’ll follow and how accurate we’ll be able to communicate back to the bees,” Day said.

The experiment would include setting up nectar and flowers in an area where the bees don’t normally forage.

“Then we would have our robot bee send the signal to the other bees through the waggle dance in order to tell them to go to that specific location,” Miller said.

For the computer science students, working hands-on with bees has been an unexpected academic adventure.

“It’s been a really fun project,” Day said.

“This has been fantastic,” Miller said. “I’m really excited to get to the testing of the mechanical bee.”

This research has been several years in the making and they anticipate having the robotic bee working by the end of this summer.

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BYU students build robotic bee to communicate through ‘waggle dance’