Are These Tiny Robots the Solution to the World's Bee Problem?
Bees, in case you hadn't heard, are dying off at an alarming rate—which is a huge problem when you consider the vital part they play in the world's ecosystems. Bees account for 80 percent of all insect crop pollination, but beekeepers in the United States estimate that between April 2015 and April 2016, they lost 44 percent of their honeybee population. The situation is so dire that engineers from Poland aren't willing to wait and see if the bee population recovers; they're already creating a replacement.
The B-Droid is a project led by Rafał Dalewski of the Warsaw University of Technology's Faculty of Power and Aeronautical Engineering, and its aim is to pollinate plants robotically. This is the fourth year of the project's existence, and in that time the B-Droid robot has gone through multiple upgrades. The first model operated on wheels with a computer and cameras mounted on it to scope out any nearby flowers to pollinate. Since that time the B-Droid has evolved into a quadcopter drone that is able to move from flower to flower taking pollen samples. To accomplish pollination, the B-Droid moves in on a flower, brushes it for pollen, then moves on to the next plant, repeating the cycle as many times as necessary.
“[The latest quadcopter] is controlled by a system of external cameras and a ground station computer,” Dalewski told Digital Trends. “When cameras and [the] ground station provide information about flowers’ position, a route is planned and the quadcopter is launched and directed by the system toward a flower. When it reaches one flower and collects pollen, it flies to another and another, until it reaches all flowers in a dedicated area.”
The quadcopter model is still a work in progress, as it can only stay airborne for a few minutes at a time right now, but the wheeled B-Droid has already shown success pollinating strawberries and garlic. This past summer, it yielded 165 garlic seeds in one experiment. The seeds were also 6 percent heavier, indicating a higher quality seed than the alternative.
The dream of a drone army pollinating the world's plants may still be a few years off. In the meantime, here are some ways you can help save the existing bee population right now.