Fireflies Light Shows Inspire Advances in Robot Communications

Scientists observing the behavior of fireflies have often wondered how these insects synchronize their flashes, not to mention there are thousands of them.

Fireflies Light Shows Inspire Advances in Robot Communications

By Erica P.

Fireflies set up their cameras and tense in the night to record the harmonious synchronization of the flashes of fireflies. The scientists recreated these flashes and turned it into a three-dimensional graph.

The scientists believe that understanding the synchronization of the flashes of fireflies will inspire advances in the communication and coordination of the swarm of robots in the future, Smithsonian Magazine reported. Also, it will give more insight into firefly conservation on how to monitor their populations.

Synchronous Flashes of Fireflies

A new study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface by physicist Raphael Sarfati and assistant professor of computer science Orit Peleg revealed that fireflies move in synchrony and that this could spark advances to robot communications.

They set up their 360-degree cameras in the forest to capture the behavior of the fireflies in their natural environment at night. They observed that males are thick in the air and flew around flashing their lights synchronously to attract the dormant females on the ground.

The blinking patterns of fireflies are known to be their love language to locate appropriate partners for mating, according to LiveScience. The males flash their lights while the females wait on the leaves.

Their camera was able to track what their naked eye could not. The camera recorded a trajectory of where exactly the fireflies were in 3D when they flash their lights.

Then they conducted a control set up where they used a tent and added dozens of fireflies and put up cameras in it. They were able to capture the behavior of the fireflies and discovered that males approximately flash 10 to 15 times.

 “The total number of flashes in a burst where you have a lot of fireflies together could be as many as 10, 12 or 15, but it’s not the same firefly flashing that many times,” Sarfati says. “It’s a relay, passing over the flash.”

The next phase of their experiment involved putting one by one the male fireflies inside the tent. When one male firefly was inside the tent, its flashes were inconsistent and random. So does adding the second and third fireflies. But when there were five or ten , they start a relay of flashes although the length of darkness is still inconsistent.

It was not until the number of fireflies reached 15 that synchronous flashing is observed followed by six to eight seconds interval of darkness.

The research showed that from a chaotic light show the fireflies transition into an order of synchronous light activity. It also shows the emergent property of males, wherein when the males get into bigger groups they show synchrony which is a function of the male destiny.

Fireflies Light Show to Inspire Robot Communications

According to Anders Christensen, a professor of bio-inspired robotics from the University of Southern Denmark and who was not part of the study, the study would lead to a better understanding of communication and robustness which are concepts used in guiding swarm robotics.

Like fireflies, the swarm robots should be able to communicate with each other and robust in the sense that they can still functioneven if one of them breaks down. Christensen believes there’s more to improve on swarm robts that he had successfully done before.

But aside from that, the study will also help in the conservation of firefly populations as conservationists learn how they fluctuate.

Originally published at sciencetimes

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