Insect Drones Become Artificial Pollinators

Research team uses drones to address the bee population crisis.


Anyone else lamenting the plight of the honey bee, now on the endangered species list?

As a honey lover and all-around nature freak, I have been disheartened—and frankly, worried—about what will happen to our agricultural systems if our bee populations disappear. Apparently Japanese researchers feel the same way, as they recently introduced technology to try to counteract the collapse of the bee population: insect-sized drones.

The key to the project is an ionic sticky gel, first developed in 2007, which is applied to a $100 four-propeller drone that is suited up in a fuzzy bee-like exterior, serving as an artificial pollinator, according to an article in The gel, along with horse hair bristles on the drone’s surface, create additional area for the pollen to attach to while also delivering an electric charge that keeps the pollens in place, the article said.

The bee drones, flown by the researchers using remote control and tested on Japanese lilies, picked up pollen from one flower and deposited it on another to mimic the behavior of real bees. While the drones cana't replace bees, the researchers believe this kind of artificial pollinator can help the bee crisis by giving bees breathing space to recover their numbers. The bee project not only has implications for future crop applications, but for robotics use cases as well, and the team said they see potential for using global positioning systems and artificial intelligence to train the drones in natural pollination paths.

Here’s hoping a little drone activity can "spark" a lot of pollination.

More in Data