PROVO, Utah (ABC4) — Students at Brigham Young University in Provo are buzzing about bees, particularly about their “waggle dance,” creating a “Google translate” of sorts to understand the dance in real-time.
Honeybees famously dance for their fellow bees when they return to the hive. The dance, known as the waggle dance, tells other bees where they’ll be able to find nectar.
“Bees will do this dance on a vertical surface and they’ll kind of waggle or shake in a line, and the angle of that line has to do with the angle of the sun that the bees need to fly from the hive to go to the food source,” explained BYU computer science professor and project advisor Sean Warnick.
Using technology such as AI and a special computer program designed by the project team, students are unlocking real-time meanings to the dance on the computer screen.
A camera records the waggle dance and algorithms in the computer program to measure, annotate, and interpret the movement. This data, paired with GPS data, can tell researchers exactly where the bees are mapping to.
“As a computer scientist I definitely spend a lot of time staring at screens and data, but it’s been really cool to go out and actually work with the bees,” said BYU computer science student Caelen Miller, who is working on the project.
BYU said the project could have a lasting impact on the agriculture industry, which relies on pollination. With the ability to understand and interpret the bee waggle dance, farmers will be able to optimize pollination strategies and better their ecosystem health and farms with systematic plans.
Warnick said now that the “listening” part of the project is completed, the next step of the project is the “speaking” part. This year, the project team hopes to be able to use mechanical bees placed in the hive to talk to the bees through a programmed waggle dance and direct the bees to a certain location.
Miller said he never thought he would be a bee-keeper and he was shocked to find that bees were organized and intelligent enough to convey their messages, especially in a way that could be mathematically translated.
“I’d love to keep studying them because they are fascinating creatures,” said Miller.