Robo bees! Bees are essential to people and the planet; it’s a commonly known fact. They were revered by ancient Egyptians, glorified by Shakespeare, and feared by Winnie the Pooh. Love them or loathe them, you can’t disagree that they are crucial to our existence. Honey bees perform 80 percent of pollination worldwide, which means they play a role in 90 percent of the world’s nutrition. But here’s another commonly known fact about them – bees are under threat like never before. Stories about their declining population trickle through the news cycle regularly.
Why we need Robo Bees?
Listen to these facts – currently, one in 10 bee species faces the threat of extinction. In the U.S., bee populations have declined by over 72 percent in the last 25 years. During the same time, over 40 percent of honeybees in India have disappeared.
This is thanks to intensive modern farming methods, as well as the consequences of climate change. But there’s growing concern about other pollinators too – butterflies, wasps, and beetles. Their populations are diminishing drastically the world over.
One in ten butterfly species and one in three hoverfly species face the threat of extinction.
Creating our own pollinators
So, what are we doing about this pollination crisis? Thinking outside the hive – creating our own pollinators! Researchers from Finland’s Tampere University have hit a milestone – they’ve developed a tiny robot fly called “Fairy.” It could revolutionize farming, they say.
So, what will Fairy do? As the name suggests, this fairy can fly. Inspired by dainty dandelion seeds, it weighs just 1.2 mg. It is controlled by light, such as a laser beam or an LED, which means light can be used to change its shape, allowing it to adapt to the wind’s direction. It’s a wirelessly controlled soft body robot made of specific soft polymers that are responsive to external stimuli.
But it’s not the first robot to use this material – in recent years, similar miniature robots have been created, including a swimming fish and walking delivery bots. They too can be controlled with light.
So why is the robo bee such a big deal? Engineers have used these materials to make similar robots walk, swim, and jump, but no one so far has been able to make them fly. The Finnish researchers do not plan to stop here; they plan to keep developing this robo bee – Fairy – until 2026.
They want to make improvements, such as allowing the robot to operate in sunlight and to carry sensors and GPS. The researchers say this could revolutionize farming as we know it.
Millions of artificial fairies carrying pollen could be used, dispersed in the wind, then steered by light towards plants awaiting pollination.
Challenges for Robo Bees in agriculture
It could have a huge impact on agriculture, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. There are challenges, such as controlling the landing spot in a precise way and making the devices reusable and biodegradable. Regardless, it sounds like fascinating sci-fi.
And this is not the only robot bee in the works – human working bees are developing their own pollinators. An Israel-based AI firm has developed robots that can autonomously travel and use AI and cameras to identify plants that are ready for pollination.
Then they blast air at the flowers to pollinate them. Researchers in the U.S. are at it too. The robot revolution is speeding up; farmers in many countries, in fact, have already started deploying these robots.
It seems we’re already living in the future. We thought robots could be coming for our jobs, but guess they’re also going after the bees. No one knows if this is a long-term solution for
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