Bees might have a sharp sting, but they play an important role in the entire world. Their pollination activity makes them indispensable for ecology and commerce. They accelerate the reproductive process of flowers and help nature reborn while farmers can harvest the fruits of their work. Without them, the crops can wither completely. As large populations of wild bees are on the verge of extinction, farmers started to invest massively in commercially managed hives. In response to this global issue, scientists are turning to robotic bees.
A team of Japanese scientists just published in the journal Chem an article about their innovative system of robotic bees. Their project is far from a final phase when they can help agriculture right away. However, their work will someday prove of utmost importance. As large colonies of wild bees are threatened with extinction, that day can be closer than people think.
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, human crops need one-third of the help of animal pollinators for reproduction. Bees are among the few species that can carry out this vital job. However, during recent years their number started to drop to dramatic levels. This phenomenon might be the result of several factors such as climate change, chemicals used in agriculture, and invasive species.
While the job itself is easy which is that of transferring pollen from male to female flowers, farmers can’t do this manually. All they would need for this is a brush, yet there is no automatization process to accelerate the operation. Another scenario to make up for the future bee extinction would be a spray machine. This tool can easily pulverize pollen over crops. On the other hand, this machine can lead to denaturing pistils and pollen.
Thus, the main solution stands on the shoulders of the robotic industry. To obtain robotic bees, the team of Japanese used a new type of gel that was discovered ten years ago by mistake. Until now, scientists found no real purpose for the sticky substance. For the moment, the early version of such machines is a regular drone at $100 a piece that scientists attached horsehairs to its legs. The strains are then coated with the special gel. During their tests, scientists saw how the upgraded drones gather ten times more pollen than regular ones.
To create a working prototype, scientists will have to integrate smart technology in their drones. They are going to need artificial intelligence and GPS to be able to track down flowers on their own. Even if such performance is attained, scientists still don’t believe that they can replace bees for good. Instead, the robot bees can work as support for them.
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