A colony of bees in Austria and a school of fish in Switzerland have become unlikely allies. In experiments run by several European universities, the two very different animal species were able to communicate and coordinate their movements long-distance with the help of some robotic interpreters.

The quirky project was born out of EPFL’s Mobile Robotics Group (MOBOTS), which has been developing robots that can blend in with animal communities and influence their behavior. In 2017, the lab designed a fish robot that was realistic enough to fool a school of zebrafish, and the real animals soon began to follow the impostor’s lead.

For the new study, the team hooked the fish robot up to another robotic system infiltrating a different animal population – a hive of honeybees. In each case, the robots had been designed to signal to the creatures in ways they could understand. For the fish, that meant being made with certain shapes, colors and stripes, as well as accelerating, vibrating and moving their tails in certain ways. The robots that lived with the bees communicated through vibrations, air movements and temperature variations.

Each of these robotic systems monitored the animals around them, then sent that data to the other robots, which would then translate it into signals for the other species. In that way, the robots acted like interpreters between the two animal populations, even though they were located about 700 km (435 mi) apart.

“We created an unprecedented bridge between the two animal communities, enabling them to exchange some of their dynamics,” says Frank Bonnet, corresponding author of the study. “The species even started adopting some of each other’s characteristics. The bees became a little more restless and less likely to swarm together than usual, and the fish started to group together more than they usually would.”

Each species had two choices – the fish could swim clockwise or anticlockwise around a ring, while the bees could swarm to one of two robot terminals. The robots in each setup were effectively controlled by the other species of animals: when the fish swam one way, the fish robot would activate one of the robots in the hive, which should attract more bees to that one, and vice versa. The idea was that this feedback loop should eventually lead to all fish swimming in one direction, and all bees around one terminal.

As would be expected in this kind of experiment, the conversation between the two species started off pretty haphazardly. But after 25 minutes, both groups were in sync: the fish were all swimming in a counterclockwise direction around the tank, while the bees had all swarmed around one robot in particular.

“The robots acted as if they were negotiators and interpreters in an international conference,” says Francesco Mondada, an author of the study. “Through the various information exchanges, the two groups of animals gradually came to a shared decision.”

The team says the research could lead to better and less invasive ways to monitor animal behavior, and possibly even influence flocks, swarms and schools in the wild. For example, robotic birds could steer real ones away from airports to prevent needing to cull them, or bees could be driven towards crops that need pollinating and away from those that have been treated with pesticides.

Bees and fish learn to communicate long distance – via robots [New Atlas]

In most cases, you’ll run into the need for a down payment when you’re trying to get a loan for land, a home, car, boat or an airplane. Basically, any large purchase for which you will need financing to complete will typically require you pay a portion of up front to reduce the amount of the loan you’ll need to complete the transaction.

So, now that we’ve established what they are, here’s how down payments work.

The Basics

Let’s say you’d like to buy a condominium with a purchase price of $300,000. Mortgage lenders generally prefer to see you come up with at least 20 percent of the price on your own. In this case, that would be $60,000, meaning your actual loan amount would be $240,000. That $60,000 is considered your down payment on the loan.

While 20 percent is preferred, some lenders are OK with less. However, if you find a lender willing to go under 20 percent, they’re going to want you buy an insurance policy to ensure repayment if you default on the loan. This is called Private Mortgage Insurance (AKA PMI), the cost of which will be added to your monthly payment.

Typical down payments for vehicles run in the 20 percent range as well, and you can get credit insurance for those too. However, it’s usually optional in those cases.

What Down Payments Do

As we mentioned above, the primary purpose of a down payment is to reduce the amount of exposure a lender has. Or, said differently, it invests you more in the purchase. Walking away from a situation becomes more difficult if you’ll lose $60,000 as a result of doing so. This means the down payment also serves as insurance of a sort for the lender.

Yes, there are sometimes circumstances in which you might seem to have no choice but to walk away. But it’s always a good idea to consult a company like Freedom Debt Relief before you default on a home loan. While they can’t help with secured debts such as a mortgage, they can help you reduce unsecured obligations such as credit card debt to free up cash to make your mortgage payments.

Other functions of down payments include reducing the amount of your monthly payment and lowering your total interest costs.

The Bigger the Better

While 20 percent is the norm, you’re free to pay as much as you’d like. In fact, large down payments can make it easier for you to get a loan if your credit score is less than stellar. The more money you’re willing to pay toward the purchase, the more likely you are to find a lender willing to work with you.

With good credit, a larger down payment will help you qualify for an even lower interest rate. Another benefit of a large down payment is a lower monthly payment. This can be a tremendous benefit if you need to get a subsequent loan for a vehicle, as your debt to income ratio will be lower because of the smaller mortgage payment.

Your Equity

Finally, that down payment money represents the portion of the asset you own. In other words, that money doesn’t just go into the seller’s pocket, it also becomes part of the equity you have on the home. Let’s say the asset cost $300,000. You put $60,000 down and after five years the value of the asset appreciates to $315,000. You now have $75,000 worth of equity in the property against which you can borrow to make another purchase.

The Bottom Line

Understanding how down payments work is key. The lender’s risk is reduced. Your repayment obligation is lowered. You’ll get a better interest rate and you can build equity faster. Ultimately, down payments benefit everyone in the transaction.

So you’re entering the real estate business, huh? Nice! Real estate is lucrative, and, let’s be honest, it feels good to be able to wield full control over an entire building. But there’s also a sentimental quality to being a landlord. You’re able to positively affect the lives of the people you’re renting to by providing them with a place to live and make memories.

Excited yet? You should be. Just know that renting out a property is not a walk in the park. There’s a lot of things you’ll have to manage from beginning to end, and you could wind up losing money if you don’t properly manage it all. Here are a few pieces of landlord know-how that you should study up on before you rent out your first apartment.

Listings and Viewings

To get your apartment rented out, you’ll have to make it known to prospective tenants that the apartment is available for renting. Real estate marketing is an obvious, but often-overlooked step in the process.

Create rental listings that advertise the apartment. The Internet makes this easy. There are plenty of apartment listing websites where you can promote your available property. But don’t forget about other advertising avenues. Placing “for rent” signs around the neighborhood is an incredibly effective way to lure tenants. Place the sign in vacant windows at the apartment complex, and place them at street corners or on telephone poles (so long as your city permits that).

When you create your listing, make sure to include all of the apartment’s specs: number of bedrooms and baths, square footage, parking availability, etc. Talk up any unique features about the place, like architecture or special amenities like a pool, balcony, or great views. But, whatever you do, don’t include any false information on your listing. If there are negative aspects about the apartment, just don’t list them. As they say, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all.”

After you’ve made your apartment listing, you’ll probably get requests from prospective tenants to come view the apartment. They want to see how it looks in person and whether or not there are any qualities about the place that are deal breakers. Be accommodating when you’re showing the house. Clean the place beforehand, but don’t try and lock up any rooms or hide any deficiencies that the tenants would easily notice when they move in. Remember that many people work from 9 to 5, so try and make yourself available to give viewings after work hours.

Background and Credit Checks

After you give viewings of the apartment, you’ll hopefully have prospective tenants who are sold on the place and who would like to sign a lease. The listing and viewing process is sure to be exhausting, but don’t be too anxious to rent out to just anyone. Always run background and credit checks on prospective tenants before you offer them a lease.

A landlord background check is when you gather information on the prospective tenant’s legal history. You’re looking to see whether or not they’ve been convicted of any crimes. If they have, you might not want to offer them a lease. It all depends on how you feel about the crime they committed, and whether or not you think they’d repeat the offence while living at your property. Remember that future tenants may not want to live in the same apartment complex as a convicted criminal.

A landlord credit check is when you gather information on the credit history of prospective tenants. Credit history is revealing. If a tenant has a bad credit history, it could mean that they have not paid their bills or debt in a timely manner—which could suggest that they won’t pay rent in a timely manner either. But someone with a bad credit history isn’t automatically a bad tenant. If a tenant’s background or credit check is less than stellar, you can always ask the tenants some more insightful questions about their prior legal or financial history.

Remember that prospective tenants must give you permission to run background checks and credit checks. Likewise, you don’t have to offer a lease to someone who refuses to let you run those checks.

Maintenance Requests

So the background and credit checks revealed nothing alarming about your prospective tenants, and they’ve signed a lease and moved into the apartment. That means your work is done, right? Wrong. You’re not officially a landlord. Since you own the apartment, you’re the one who’s tasked with handling any issues that affect your tenants’ lives at the property. You’re responsible for handling maintenance requests. If the toilet gets clogged, you have to hire the plumber. If the AC stops working, you have to call up a contractor.

If you’re only managing real estate on the side, your schedule might be too busy for you to quickly respond to maintenance requests. But it’s important that you handle maintenance as quickly as possible, both because it’s your responsibility and because happy tenants will want to stay (and pay) longer at your property. Consider hiring a property management company. You’ll have to pay them a monthly fee, but they’ll handle all the maintenance requests for you. If you’re very busy, the work of a property management company can be invaluable.

When you rent out your first apartment, you’ll learn most of the important lessons on your own. But your first experience will go much more smoothly so long as you follow those basic tips on listings, viewings, background checks, and handling maintenance requests.

There are plenty of concerns about robots stealing jobs from decent, hard-working, flesh-and-blood humans. However, to paraphrase an often-misquoted Mark Twain line, reports of our impending redundancy may have been greatly exaggerated. At least, that is our takeaway from a Wall Street Journal report claiming that Japan’s oddball Henn na “Strange” Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff.

The reason? Because these labor-saving machines were causing more problems than they were solving — and requiring humans to come in and fix things as a result.

One of the victims of the robot layoffs was a doll-shaped robot called Churi, which functioned as an artificial intelligence assistant like an embodied versions of Amazon’s Alexa. Unfortunately, Churi turned out to be remarkably poor at answering questions from hotel guests. A pair of velociraptor dinosaur robots, which worked at the hotel check-in, were also made extinct by the firings since they wound up being unable to do many of the jobs required of a receptionist. A concierge robot, meanwhile, was replaced by a human better able to answer important questions about nearby tourist attractions. Humans are also now going to carrying luggage to the rooms, of which the previous robots were only able to reach around one-quarter of — and only in optimal weather conditions.

The problem with Henn na Hotel getting rid of its robots is that it’s a bit like Disney getting rid of the staff dressed as mice: It’s pretty much the whole concept. As the hotel’s website notes, “Henn na Hotel is the world-first hotel staffed by robots. At the front desk, you will be greeted by multi-lingual robots that will help you check in or check out. At the cloakroom, the robotic arm will store your luggage for you. Mechanic [sic] yet somehow human, those fun moments with the robots will warm your heart.” The idea, in essence, was to build the most efficient hotel in the world.

In the end, though, it seems that — as great as robots can be — they’re simply not suitable for every role just yet. With the rise of robot bartenders, robot-staffed restaurants and the like, it will be interesting to see how many similar concepts fall apart in the coming years. After all, once the novelty of a robot dinosaur on reception wears off, you’re just faced with a receptionist who can’t properly understand you and lacks a sufficient number of fingers on each hand to properly photocopy your passport.

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs [Digital Trends]