Artificial pollination of crops could be the alternative solution to the dwindling populations of pollinator insects.
Over the years, the population of butterflies, bees, and other crop pollinators has been on a rapid decline, risking the production of global food supplies. There are now lesser insects compared to several years ago, mainly due to climate change, human activity and other practices that destroy the insect’s environment.
Farmers are using a few artificial pollination methods in controlled areas such as the greenhouses. These include mechanically shaking the plants, hand pollination, or other non-convention crop pollination methods instead of relying on the traditionally known natural bees. Some of these agricultural methods are effective while others cannot be relied on for some crops, hence the need for other solutions. This is why researchers are turning to technology with the aim of tackling the challenge, and one of the viable solutions is the Robobee.
What is Robobee
The Robobee is a tiny robotic bee created by Harvard Microrobotics laboratory in collaboration with the Northeastern University. The miniature flying robot has the ability to lift off, hover and perch. In addition, the artificial insects can swim in water, as well as fly through dust and wind.
The artificial bees are available in different models and sizes, with the smallest bee weighing just 84mg, hence lighter than the real bee. The smallest Robobee model is capable of flapping its wings 120 times per second. The artificial insects can sense their surroundings and also communicate with one another.
Robobee in rescue missions
The Robobee was initially designed for the artificial crop pollination; however, the bees can be used for other applications such as search and rescue missions in areas where larger robots cannot fit. By communicating with each other, the robobees in a swarm will relay the information through each other back to the control without having to wait for the particular robot to get back. This means that the information from the field reaches the control room faster compared to the time a single robot would take to take back the information.
The robobees are still in development stages, but so far Laboratory results seem promising. However, there are several challenges such as power and communication issues to address before insects become commercially available. Once these and other issues are sorted out, we will soon have the Robobees performing artificial pollination, environmental monitoring and rescue missions.