Bees play a significant role in pollination and contribute to 80% of all worldwide pollination1 . The process of cross pollination requires the pollen to be transferred from one plant to another and interestingly, 90% of the crops that are consumed by humans are pollinated by bees, thus the significance of the existence of bees is unquestionable. From 1947 to 2008, there has been a sharp fall of 58% in the number of hives in the United States2. The main reasons behind the fall in number of bees is said to have happened due to the extensive use of pesticides on crops, global warming and destruction of habitats. A lot of these bees die during the winter and are expected to be replaced by new ones by spring. Another problem that persists is colony collapse disorder, where the worker bees abandon the queen bees to live with younger bees leaving behind ample food for their survival. This leads to a drastic decline in pollination rates and in turn have bad economic effects as it is estimated that pollination due to bees contribute to a total of $15 billion towards the US economy 3.
To address the steady decrease in bee population, Eijiro Miyako from Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, along with his colleagues has developed a 4cm wide drone that could be used as an artificial pollinator. Dubbed the “Robo-bee,” the drone weighs only 15gms and is covered in horsehair with a sticky gel. When the drone moves close to a flower, the pollens stick to its gel and is then transferred on to the next flower it visits.This artificial pollinator has been tested on a Japanese Lilly plant and has been successful in the cross-pollination process.
Currently, the drone is manually controlled, researchers hope to develop artificial intelligence for the robot bee, so that it can fly and cross-pollinate independently. Miyako also believes that this revolutionary tiny drone would some day work along side bees and would help compensate the decline in number of bees.