Japanese scientists demonstrate ‘drone bee’ prototype

An artists impression of the drone bee at work pollinating a flower. Image courtesy of AIST - Eijiro Miyako.
An artists impression of the drone bee at work pollinating a flower. Image courtesy of AIST - Eijiro Miyako.

A group of Japanese researchers have successfully demonstrated that a small 'drone bee' can be used to artificially pollinate flowers.

The team from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) demonstrated that with a few modifications a small commercial drone could be used as an effective pollinator.

The AIST team took a Chinese-made G-Force PXY CAM drone and affixed an array of animal hairs to its underside.

Crucially the team then covered these hairs in an ‘ionic liquid gel’ which would be sticky enough for pollen grains to affix themselves to the hairs.

The drone was then tested flying between flowers of the L. japonicum plant, wherein it managed to successfully pollinate the flowers 41% of the time.

The researchers themselves believe that a similar, but somewhat more advanced implementation of their findings could be used to combat declining bee numbers.

In many parts of the world bee populations are in serious decline due to a phenomenon known as ‘Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)’. This disorder while not fully understood, is thought to be linked to the use of certain pesticides by farmers.

“…it should lead to the development of robotic pollinators and help counter the problems caused by the declining honeybee populations,” the researchers wrote in a paper submitted to the scientific journal ‘Chem’.

“We believe that robotic pollinators will be able to move smartly and learn the optimal pollination path by using GPS and artificial intelligence.”

If a huge number of these artificial drone bees could be created it would indeed serve as a solution to the looming agricultural problems caused by CCD.

However, to actually produce enough of these drones that they could effectively replace the millions if not billions of bees on Earth, would be a gargantuan task.

Humanity would be much better off to try and determine once and for all why bee populations are in decline and take actions to rectify this – bees themselves are a far better and more efficient pollinator than these drones could ever hope to be.

Moreover, as dystopian TV shows like Black Mirror correctly point out, whoever has control over such a large number of drones, would have a disturbingly large amount of power.