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Tiny, New Drones Could Replace Bees

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Posted February 27, 2017

As you probably know, the world’s honeybee population is in trouble. Since 2006, they’ve been declining at a rapid rate. This could be extremely detrimental to humans as bees help pollinate a big portion of crops we eat.

Image credit: Anivesh.agrawal via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Recently new technology has been proposed to help this problem. Tiny drones would replace bees in the pollination process. Multiple groups have been working on ideas for these drones, and they range from educational tools to full-scale pollinating machines.

Small Scale

Anna Haldewang, a student at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, has come up with Plan Bee, planned for educational use. She states that you can’t really see how a honeybee is pollinating flowers, but with her drone, you can really see how the process works. The dean of the school of design also said that it could possibly used on a larger scale in farming as well.

Thinking Bigger

Researchers in Japan are looking at the big picture with their design. They’ve come up with a sticky gel that lets a drone pick up pollen from a flower and put it onto another. They tested the gel on ants and originally thought of using it to enhance the ability of insects to pollinate. However, the practicality of that was difficult, and they switched to using robots.

Technology is consistently getting more impressive. We’ve been able to do things that were simply elements in science fiction novels years ago. However, recent geocoding and geolocation technologies are making concepts like this possible, and are already used in business and consumer navigation systems.

Through assigning a longitude and latitude value to a tabular record and making it mappable, companies are able to conduct more accurate customer targeting, order deliveries and risk assessments. Why stop there when the same, basic concept behind this technology could be used to inform drone flight paths and destinations?

However, the cost of these drones would be quite high, though, and the current battery life of their robots is only three minutes. Then there’s the problem of having tiny robots all over the world. Is it possible to have a battery on these things that lasts forever? And what happens if the robots lose charge, and the ground is littered with them?

The Real Cost

Not only would these drones be insanely expensive to implement, but they also have the potential to do more harm than good. What bees do is extremely important and necessary for human life to continue. There’s almost no conceivable way to make drones that are as efficient and inexpensive as bees. There’s also the fact that bees aren’t the only insects that pollinate. So how could we replace trillions of insects?

If the drones were implemented now, it’s quite possible that they could scare away real bees with their sounds — not to mention the fan blades that could kill them. The current drones also aren’t that efficient, with just a 41% success rate on lilies, one of the easiest plants to pollinate. And at a cost of $100 each, that doesn’t really seem worth it.

Then there’s the environmental impact of having plastic, metal and batteries being littered everywhere when the charge dies on them. We’re just now stumbling onto super long-lasting batteries, but they still have to be charged. They can just be charged many more times without the battery’s capacity diminishing.

So what happens when the batteries on these need to be charged? Are they somehow going to make it back to a lab or charging area every time their batteries are low? It would be a serious inconvenience and environmental hazard to have these all over the ground when the batteries die. The world already has a problem with littering, and this certainly wouldn’t help.

Some Benefit?

The technology would have to be absolutely perfected before these could be implemented in the real world. The cost would have to go down, and the efficiency and battery life would have to go up. The drones must also not kill or scare off the bees we have left. It seems like there’s a slim chance of this being real-world capable.

However, the small-scale Plan Bee does have potential. It would definitely be a good educational tool and pollinator for backyard gardens, as long as it’s being monitored and not endangering bees. It may even be useful on a larger scale. Monitoring is essential, though.

A world without bees isn’t really one humans would want to live in. New technological feats are always cool, but we can’t use them to replace natural things like bees. The focus should be on how to increase bee populations again, not how to substitute them.

Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes.

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