Pollinators are some of the most important species in an ecosystem and even our own survival may be threatened if the current trends of population decline in pollinators like the honey bee and butterfly continue to decrease.
Although such a situation would be prevented at best, some scientists are already preparing for its eventuality by developing a new way to pollinate plans without the need of bees. If you are a fan of the dystopian TV show Black Mirror, you should recall the episode where this situation became a reality in the future and the pollinators were replaced with robotic bees, which also had other uses besides pollinating plants.
It seems that scientists are also proposing a very similar alternative to real bees. Japanese researchers now developing miniaturized unmanned aerial vehicles, drones or robotic bees if you will, which can fulfill the same function as regular bees, pollinate plants. While this idea was previously dismissed due to the inefficiency of a drone to pollinate plants compared to a bee which can visit thousands of flowers each day.
However, new advances in swarm robotics have led scientists to reconsider the idea of robotic bees. Current advances in swarm robotics allows one person to control more than one drone, while scientists believe that in the future the robotic bees would very likely be controlled by AI capable of mimicking the behavior of a real bee.
Eijiro Miyako, a chemist from Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, AIST for short, had the idea of using an ionic gel from an experiment older than 10 years. The gel is both conductive and sticky enough to catch pollen, which is the basic function of robotic bees.
Scientists applied the sticky gel to an area of a drone which they covered in hair in order to mimic the fur of bees. The hair-covered gel offers a maximum surface area for capturing pollen, as they also generate an electric charge to keep the pollen in place during transportation.
The researchers extensively tested the robotic bees and the gel, by transporting pollen from one plant to another, experiments which were detailed in a study published in the journal Chem.
What do you think about robotic bees as future pollinators?
Image source: Eijiro Myako