In the latest Talking Robots podcast interview José Halloy, ecologist at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, describes the first experiments with a mixed animal-robot society. His team's work, published in a special issue "Robotics" of Science magazine (see here for the intro), marks an important step: First, because it involved cracking at least part of an animal communication system (in this case, chemical communication between cockroaches). Considering that we know next to nothing about how most animals communicate, let alone what they say, this is an amazing feat in itself. Second, because it shows that animal-robot communication and interaction can actually work. By changing collective decision making in a social group, these experiments are, as an unrelated scientist put it, "a true example of automated leadership". And third, as also pointed out in a Science commentary, because this work opens the door to a host of new scientific possibilities and practical applications. Think understanding cooperation, group hierarchies or interspecies interactions from the inside out, and robo-surrogate-chicken-moms, robots replacing cowboys or MAVs directing swarms of birds. The LEURRE project (also see an earlier post) is now over, but a follow-up seems to already be in the works - after manipulating cockroaches Halloy and his team now intend to study chicken - checkin it out and listen in!