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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. 

[h/t Co.Exist

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Space
Look Up! Residents of Maine and Michigan Might Catch a Glimpse of the Northern Lights Tonight
iStock
iStock

The aurora borealis, a celestial show usually reserved for spectators near the arctic circle, could potentially appear over parts of the continental U.S. on the night of February 15. As Newsweek reports, a solar storm is on track to illuminate the skies above Maine and Michigan.

The Northern Lights (and the Southern Lights) are caused by electrons from the sun colliding with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. The solar particles transfer some of their energy to oxygen and nitrogen molecules on contact, and as these excited molecules settle back to their normal states they release light particles. The results are glowing waves of blue, green, purple, and pink light creating a spectacle for viewers on Earth.

The more solar particles pelt the atmosphere, the more vivid these lights become. Following a moderate solar flare that burst from the sun on Monday, the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center forecast a solar light show for tonight. While the Northern Lights are most visible from higher latitudes where the planet’s magnetic field is strongest, northern states are occasionally treated to a view. This is because the magnetic North Pole is closer to the U.S. than the geographic North Pole.

This Thursday night into Friday morning is expected to be one of those occasions. To catch a glimpse of the phenomena from your backyard, wait for the sun to go down and look toward the sky. People living in places with little cloud cover and light pollution will have the best chance of spotting it.

[h/t Newsweek]

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The North Face
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Design
The North Face's New Geodesic Dome Tent Will Protect You in 60 mph Wind
The North Face
The North Face

You can find camping tents designed for easy set-up, large crowds, and sustainability, but when it comes to strength, there’s only so much abuse a foldable structure can take. Now, The North Face is pushing the limits of tent durability with a reimagined design. According to inhabitat, the Geodome 4 relies on its distinctive geodesic shape to survive wind gusts approaching hurricane strength.

Instead of the classic arching tent structure, the Geodome balloons outward like a globe. It owes its unique design to the five main poles and one equator pole that hold it in place. Packed up, the gear weighs just over 24 pounds, making it a practical option for car campers and four-season adventurers. When it’s erected, campers have floor space measuring roughly 7 feet by 7.5 feet, enough to sleep four people, and 6 feet and 9 inches of space from ground to ceiling if they want to stand. Hooks attached to the top create a system for gear storage.

While it works in mild conditions, the tent should really appeal to campers who like to trek through harsher weather. Geodesic domes are formed from interlocking triangles. A triangle’s fixed angles make it one of the strongest shapes in engineering, and when used in domes, triangles lend this strength to the overall structure. In the case of the tent, this means that the dome will maintain its form in winds reaching speeds of 60 mph. Meanwhile, the double-layered, water-resistant exterior keeps campers dry as they wait out the storm.

The Geodome 4 is set to sell for $1635 when it goes on sale in Japan this March. In the meantime, outdoorsy types in the U.S. will just have to wait until the innovative product expands to international markets.

[h/t inhabitat]

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