Robot Bees Could Be the Future of Honey-Making and Crop Pollination

When you hear that your honey is made by a machine, usually you picture a processing plant. However, in this case, the machine in question is the bees themselves. That’s right, mechanical bees may soon harvest your honey. With the endangerment of honey bees reaching critical proportions, robot bees are on the horizon.

No, it’s not going to be anything like that episode of Black Mirror where the robot bees’ artificial intelligence was hijacked. The bees that are being created today are not even to that stage as a prototype. Today’s drone bees are still in a laboratory with Japanese researcher, Eijiro Miyako. 

What is Happening to the Bees?

Bees are often considered pesky little critters who hum lazily through the summertime air and occasionally sting you.

However, they also play an indispensable role in agriculture and the pollination of many crops. Without them, grocery store produce as we know it will cease to exist.

Bee deaths have been on the rise for the last several years. Last year, the losses were such that they outpaced colonies’ ability to regenerate. As a result, 44 percent of U.S. honeybee colonies were lost.

Other bees that a native to the country have come to the brink of extinction as well including the rusty patch bumble bee and seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees.

Although mass extinction  of these little yellow pollinators may still seem improbable, some scientists are beginning to take precautions.

The Advent of the Robo Bee

Eijiro Miyako is designing what he believes could one day be a partial solution: an insect-sized drone capable of artificial pollination. These quad-propelled drones are coated with a patch of horse hair and an ionic liquid gel. This design allows them to collect and transfer pollen from one plant to another.

The advent of this particular prototype was a lucky accident. Several years ago, Miyako was experimenting with this ionic gel on electrochemical applications. Unfortunately, the gel performed poorly causing him to shelf his idea. However, two years ago, as he was moving offices, Miyako rediscovered this sticky formula. 

#wdblck #polynoid #robobees #greenpeace

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As he had recently been following news about the sharp decline of bee populations, it struck him that this sticky, non-reactive gel might be just the thing to create pint-sized pollinating robots.

With its “lift-and-stick-again” adhesive quality, Miyako’s ionic gel is perfect for moving pollen from one plant to the next. 

After several live tests on other pollinating species like ants and houseflies, Miyako and his team decided that this gel was indeed a viable substance with which to transfer pollen.

With the application of some horsehair to mimic the bristles naturally found on bees, Miyako’s team has successfully used their drones to retrieve and place pollen into a test tube where it began germinating. 

Currently, each drone costs around $100 and needs to be operated by hand. Miyako hopes to soon install an artificial intelligence GPS.

Obstacles Abound for Robo Bees

Even if cost were no object to produce these robotic pollinators, there are still a myriad of obstacles that they will have to surmount. While there are 20,000 species of bees in the world, each with unique flight patterns and body sizes to get into different flowers, Miyako’s robot bees only come in one shape.

This makes it impossible to guarantee that it will pollinate plants with maximum efficiency. Not only that, but many experts are arguing that it makes much more sense to protect our natural pollinators than to develop new technology. 

We signed up, your turn! #savethebees #honeybee #cheerios #wildflowers http://www.cheerios.com/bringbackthebees

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No one will argue that protecting the current biodiversity is a critical component of encouraging life as we know it today to continue.

However, should it come to pass that our bee friends cease to exist, at least there is hope on the horizon for a mechanical replacement.

Read More: Buzz, the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee, Is Missing from the Box for This Reason