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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Bees

Air Date: Week of

Honeybee covered in pumpkin pollen. (Photo: John Kimbler)

Computer scientists look at bees' dance moves as a model for a better system of web servers. Living on Earth's Annie Jia reports.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Coming up: non-native plants threaten to take over. But first this Note on Emerging Science from Annie Jia.

[Sweet Inspiration music]

JIA: Bees give us many things. Honey, stings – even inspiration for Hollywood B movies. But a better internet? That’s what one group of scientists is devising, thanks to these busy workers—or rather, dancers.

[Science note music]

When bees find new honey, they dance. Their jigging, however, is not for celebrating – it’s to tell their hivemates about the discovery. Bees use boogying to communicate the quality of each flower patch, and with this knowledge they fluidly shift their workforce as nectar supplies change.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology realized the internet faces a similar challenge as bees. A limited number of web servers provide processing power to many websites, whose traffic constantly changes – just like a limited number of bees collect nectar from many flower patches.

Professor Craig Tovey’s observations of field bees provide clues of better ways to organize server space on the Net. (Photo: Georgia Institute of Technology)

But while bees move around, conventional web servers cannot. A fixed number of servers attends to each website, no matter how much traffic fluctuates. Scientists emulated bees’ system of dancing and invented a way for web servers to communicate with each other and move between websites. Busy servers post requests for help, and those with low traffic shift to busy websites. The result: less congestion, and a more efficient internet.

Another upgrade, inspired by bees that stay home on cloudy days when flowers aren’t blooming, would turn off the power to idle servers. This could cut energy use by 20%.

Staying home? Dancing? Sweeeeeet.

That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Annie Jia.



Center for Biologically Inspired Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology


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