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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How to Spot Poison Ivy, According to a Scientist
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If you're a former scout, you've probably heard the rhyme “leaves of three, let it be.” This mnemonic device, used to steer intrepid outdoorspeople away from poisonous ivy and oak, is generally sound advice for ensuring you don’t come home with a nasty rash. Not all three-leaved plants are the enemy, though, and several harmless plants are often confused with poison ivy.

Microbiologist John Jelesko shared some tips with NPR for identifying this pernicious plant. First, it helps to know what you’re up against. Poison ivy is a master of disguise and can take many different shapes and sizes. It can appear in small patches, take the form of creeping vines or a bush, and can even mimic the appearance of a tree it has wrapped itself around. The leaves can have either “smooth, jagged, or lobed edges” and may or may not bear white or greenish berries.

If the plant has thorns, you can be sure it’s not poison ivy, whose mode of attack is a little more stealthy. In the city, Jelesko had found that climbing vines are the more common form; look out for ground-creeping vines in forested areas. While there are exceptions to this rule, Jelesko’s research found that poison ivy tends to take different forms depending on the landscape.

A longer middle stem and a hairy vine are also signs that you could be dealing with poison ivy. If you have a plant in your garden that you can’t identify, you can conduct a “black dot test” to see if it’s poison ivy. Put on a pair of gloves, tear a leaf in half, and place the sap on a sheet of white paper. If it’s urushiol oil (the rash-causing chemical in poison ivy), it will turn black within 30 minutes.

Sometimes, even our best efforts to identify poison ivy may fail. If you think you may have brushed up against it, don’t panic—take a shower within a few hours of contact. That should keep your chance of developing a rash at a minimum.

[h/t NPR]

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Art
A Rare Copy of Audubon's Birds of America Could Break Records at Auction
Christie's
Christie's

American artist and naturalist John James Audubon published The Birds of America in the first half of the 19th century, and his massive “double-elephant” folio of life-size bird illustrations remains one of the most ambitious nature books ever produced. On June 14, a rare edition of the four-book set is hitting the auction block, and it's expected to fetch up to $12 million—more than any Audubon book ever sold.

This edition of The Birds of America was owned by the dukes of Portland from around 1839 to 2012. Because it was stored on the shelves of the family's Nottinghamshire, England estate for nearly a century, the set's prints of watercolor drawings have remained remarkably well-preserved.

In 2012, the copy was auctioned off to philanthropist and businessman Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. for nearly $8 million. Knobloch donated the books to the Knobloch Family Foundation (KFF) before his death in 2016. Now, the KFF is sending the books to auction once again. This time, all proceeds of the sale will go to nature conservation.

Set of red leather-bound books.

New York City auction house Christie's describes the set in a listing as "among the finest copies in private hands of this icon of American art, and the finest color-plate book ever produced." Each of the 435 double-elephant folio pages measures 39.5 inches by 26.5 inches, the largest sheets Audubon could get his hands on at the time, and they feature 1037 birds from 500 species. The books are bound in red Moroccan leather with gold detailing on the borders and spines. The four-volume set also comes with the Ornithological Biography, a collection of five books describing the specimens in The Birds of America and their habits.

Christie's estimates the set will sell for $8 million to $12 million when the final bid is placed later this month. To date, the most expensive copy of The Birds of America was a first edition acquired from Sotheby's in London for $11.5 million. That sale also broke the record for the most expensive printed book ever sold at auction, a record held until 2013.

Illustration of American birds.

Illustration of American bird.

Illustration of American birds.

Illustration of American birds.

Illustration of American birds.

All images courtesy of Christie's

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