The loss of pollinating bees threatens global agriculture, and several factors are identified. In particular, the widespread use of chemical pesticides that have a proven neurotoxic effect. Thus, the rarefaction of bee populations in certain areas is a real threat to the pollination of the flora.
To offset this issue, research is seeking ways to develop a mini-robot that could potentially replace bees. As a matter of fact, an American food multinational (Walmart) has just announced that she had filed a patent to use bee robots to pollinate the crops and thus ensure its supply of fruits and vegetables. These bee robots equipped with cameras and sensors would spot the flowers, take the pollen and transport it. They would even be able to verify that pollination has been successful.
This bee robot does not exist at the moment, but researchers at Harvard University have been working for several years on “Robobees”. It is a kind of mechanical insect the size of a small coin, which is able to fly, hover, hang on a wall, move underwater or propel itself out of the water.
This “microrobot is 1,000 times lighter than any of its predecessors able to go in the air and in the water,” say scientists at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences unit at the Harvard university. To achieve such technological prowess, engineers have faced many technological challenges, such as propulsion. Because RoboBee is ultra-light, it does not carry its own fuel. This robot insect makes it! When swimming on the surface of the water, a system (made of a metal plate performing an electrolysis) makes it possible to transform water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter being a combustible gas.
In terms of pollinator robots, the Japanese are also very advanced. Researchers at the Japan National Institute of Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) have found the solution to carry pollen which is very light and very volatile. They of course also created their own bee robot, on which they fixed 3 million horse hair, to resemble the hairy body of a bee. In addition, researchers can also program these robotic insects to work on a specific type of flower.
In the meantime, it’s nice to think about what synthetic bees could do, however populations of real bees should not be taken for granted!
Karima, Consultant, Leyton France
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