/ Modified may 1, 2013 9:10 a.m.

Buzz on Bees: They Communicate

Researcher studies their ways to aid computer, robotic networks


Set aside bee stings, and the busy little insects are most known for their irreplaceable contribution to the world's food supply through pollination.

But that's not all they offer, a University of Arizona scientist says. Bees are great communicators, making sure their individual actions fit with the larger purpose of their fellow bees in the hive.

From that, humans are learning better communications methods, specifically applications to vast computer networks and systems, says Anna Dornhaus, with the University of Arizona Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology where she studies bee and ant communications systems.

Her research offers clues about communication to people who design robotic, manufacturing, computer and other systems. Take, for example, the field of distributed systems, a branch of computer science concerned with the way that computers interact with one another to achieve a common goal.

"It works by each computer locally and each server station making its own local decisions and passing on messages. And, somehow, the whole works," Dornhaus says.

"So how do engineers and computer engineers find out how to do this?" she asks. The answer: bees and ants.

"How do they organize these networks of computers? What individual behavior rules do they give computers or email messages in order for them to find their way? This is often copied from social insects," she says.,

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