According to reports, bees pollinate over $15 billion worth of crops in the US alone each year, but with the mass bee extinction we have lost 44% of all bee colonies in the last year.
In a way to combat this, Eijiro Miyako, a researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology has created a drone that can replicate the functions of bees, and offer a temporary solution.
This tiny, sticky drone is just 1.5 inches and is square-shaped. It is nimble enough to collect and transfer pollen, and it does so by using a patch of horsehair bristles that have been attached on its underside. This hair is coated with a type of ionic liquid sticky gel that helps in efficiently pollinating.
Experimentation done to pollinate a Japanese lily show that the bee drones do work. But at the moment, they are not autonomous and need to be controlled by a human. This is more of a prototype and the drone could be modified to attach cameras, sensors, and GPS locators to identify and systematically pollinate many plants.
Though, there are some problems that stand in the way of this bee drone becoming a permanent solution. For the addition of more advanced software and hardware the production cost of these drones will run high, and it will be very expensive to create a huge number of drones to even look over one field. Secondly, the flight time on these small drones is short, so just 5-10 minutes of flight time wouldn’t be enough.
While this is a temporary step towards trying to replace bees due to their rapid extinction, it is important to note that bees are still not a lost cause but rather an emergency that needs attention.