Date:13 February 2017
Adhere some sticky gel and horse hair to mini drones and you’ve got robot bees.
By David Grossman
Bees are dying globally at an alarming rate, and to brace for an uncertain future, scientists are figuring out how to replace them with robots.
While bees aren’t in immediate danger of going extinct, several species have been placed on the endangered species list. “In today’s world,” a researcher told the Christian Science Monitor last year, “it’s harder to keep colonies alive than it was 20 years ago.” Challenges range from habitat destruction to a mysterious phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.
Enter Eijiro Miyako of the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science. A chemist, Miyako relied on a project from 2007 he had previously considered a failure: attempting to make a liquid electrical conductor, he ended up with an extremely stick gel. The gel sat unused for a decade, until Miyako began to wonder if it could be used to turn drones into bees by giving them a way to grab and transport pollen like a bee’s body does.
Miyako’s not the first person to have this idea. Engineers at Harvard have been working on RoboBees for years. Pollination, after all, is a crucial natural function, vital to mass fertilization of the Earth. The difference is mainly in cost. Rather than spend years developing a perfectly functioning robot, Miyako and his team simply bought tiny drones off the shelf at $100 a pop. They then applied horse hair to recreate a bee’s fuzzy exterior, and after that applied Miyako’s signature sticky gel.
Using Japanese lilies, Miyako and his team were able to use the robot bees to transfer pollen from one flower to another. The successful artificial pollination is promising. “The findings, which will have applications for agriculture and robotics, among others, could lead to the development of artificial pollinators and help counter the problems caused by declining honeybee populations,” Miyako says.
After all, a world without bees is not a world you want to live in.
Source: New Scientist
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.