With animals like honeybees seeing their numbers drop around the world due to pesticides and habitat loss, the potential ramifications are concerning. One of the most impactful effects resulting from declining honeybee numbers is pollination—the process that plants use to reproduce, which is an essential step in growing many of the fruits and vegetables we enjoy.
Researchers fear that the continual decline (or eventual extinction) of honeybees and other insects that act as catalysts in the pollination process can lead to a massive food shortage, and cripple several agricultural industries like almond farmers, who depend on pollination for their crops to grow.
Researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan may have found a viable solution to account for the lack of pollination due to declining honeybee populations by using drones to fill the catalyst role in the pollination process that the honeybee usually occupy.
“The global pollination crisis is a critical issue for the natural environment and our lives,” according to a statement written by the Institute’s research team. “The need to develop an innovative pollination tool that does not require time and effort to achieve pollination with a high success rate is urgent.”
Using a pocket-size drone about the size of a hummingbird, the craft’s quadcopter features keep the drone suspended in midair. The drone was equipped with a strip of fuzz made from horsehair, and covered with a sticky gel to collect and redistribute pollen. To ensure the horsehair collects pollen efficiently, the researchers covered the strands with ionic liquid gel (ILG)—a sticky substance with long-lasting “list-and-stick-again” adhesive qualities.
“The findings described here should lead to the development of robotic pollinators and help counter the problems caused by the declining honeybee populations,” the research team stated. “We believe that robotic pollinators will be able to move smartly and learn the optimal pollination path by using GPS and artificial intelligence.”
Using remote controls, researchers were able to maneuver the drone so that the bristles gently brushed against a flower’s stamen to collect pollen with enough precision where only the craft’s bristles brushed against the flower’s stamen. The technology is still in its early stages of development, and nowhere near the point where a swarm of pocket-sized drones can be deployed to start the pollination process.
Researchers still need to improve the precision of these drones, along with effectively incorporating the right amount of artificial intelligence and autonomy for these drones to orchestrate the process without direct human influence. Despite how far away researchers may currently be from this point, the breakthroughs they’ve achieved are a step in the right direction.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)