Bee-drone – the future of artificial pollination

Bee populations around the world are declining sharply due to increased use of toxic pesticides, loss of habitat, climate change, and growing diseases. Now the problem has reached such a global scale that it has a name: bee colon destruction syndrome. But scientists have found a solution for “backup”: tiny drones that will replace real bees in the pollination process.

Created by Japanese designers, this pollinating robot is a reworked drone. A simple plastic UAV was chosen from an inexpensive money segment; it costs only $ 100. On the bottom cover of the device is a horsehair patch. It allows the robotic bee to carefully collect pollen from the plant using a sticky ionic liquid gel applied to the hairs. The idea is to imitate how pollen adheres to the bodies of insects when they fly to flowering plants. Collecting pollen, the robotic bee transports the collected pollen to the next plant.

Pollination is a time-consuming task, available only to bees for free. For people, this would be extremely time consuming and expensive. And although there are a number of alternative pollination methods without the participation of bees, the new device gives its predecessors a hundred points ahead. The previous two methods are not so effective. The first requires the physical transfer of pollen from male to female flowers with a brush or cotton swab. Another uses a spray machine such as a machine gun and a pneumatic ejector, which denaturing pollen.

Surprisingly, the main component of the robotic bee – ionic liquid gel (ILG) – was invented by chance. One of the authors of the study, chemist Eijiro Miyako, tried to create an ionic liquid (or salt in a liquid state) that conducts electricity. Instead, a gel that did not pass the conductivity test came out. His samples were deposited and forgotten. Years later, an unopened bottle with a substance, similar to hair gel, was found in the closet during the cleaning of the laboratory. Surprisingly, Miyako and the gel was still in excellent condition and remained sticky. Inspired by fears about bees and news reports about robotic insects, Miyako began to study the substrate using flies and ants.

The prototype of a bee-cordon was already able to participate in an experiment with Japanese lilies (Lilium japonicum). But the bulletproof swarms of robotic bee drones will not soon become a full-blown solution to the bee crisis. Although the inclusion of artificial intelligence and GPS tools in each robotic bee will make them more autonomous, scientists still believe that these drones should help bees, not replace them.