CLOSE

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

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
All National Parks Are Offering Free Admission on April 21
iStock
iStock

Looking for something to do this weekend that's both outdoorsy and free? To kick off National Park Week, you can visit any one of the National Park Service's more than 400 parks on April 21, 2018 for free.

While the majority of the NPS's parks are free year-round, they'll be waiving admission fees to the more than 100 parks that normally require an entrance fee. Which means that you can pay a visit to the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, or Yellowstone National Parks without reaching for your wallet. The timing couldn't be better, as many of the country's most popular parks will be increasing their entrance fees beginning in June.

The National Park Service, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2016, maintains 417 designated NPS areas that span more than 84 million acres across every state, plus Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Weird
Massive Tumbleweeds Invaded a California Town, Trapping Residents in Their Homes
iStock
iStock

For Americans who don’t live out west, any mention of tumbleweeds tends to conjure up images of a lone bush blowing lazily across the desert. The reality is not so romantic, as Californians would tell you.

The town of Victorville, California—an 85-mile drive from Los Angeles—was overtaken by massive tumbleweeds earlier this week when wind speeds reached nearly 50 mph. The tumbleweeds blew across the Mojave Desert and into town, where they piled up on residents’ doorsteps. Some stacks towered as high as the second story, trapping residents in their homes, according to the Los Angeles Times.

City employees and firefighters were dispatched to tackle the thorny problem, which reportedly affected about 150 households. Pitchforks were used to remove the tumbleweeds, some of which were as large as 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide.

"The crazy thing about tumbleweeds is that they are extremely thorny, they connect together like LEGOs," Victorville spokeswoman Sue Jones told the Los Angeles Times. "You can't reach out and grab them and move them. You need special tools. They really hurt."

Due to the town’s proximity to the open desert, residents are used to dealing with the occasional tumbleweed invasion. Similar cases have been reported in Texas, New Mexico, and other states in the West and Southwest. In 1989, the South Dakota town of Mobridge had to use machinery to remove 30 tons of tumbleweeds, which had buried homes, according to Metro UK.

Several plant species are considered a tumbleweed. The plant only becomes a nuisance when it reaches maturity, at which time it dries out, breaks from its root, and gets carried off into the wind, spreading seeds as it goes. They’re not just unsightly, either. They can cause soil dryness, leading to erosion and sometimes even killing crops.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios