Without bees, plants go un-pollinated, and eventually we starve. Usually in bleak future scenario, it’s the robots that are causing all the problems, but today the bees are dying with no machine interference. Instead, it’s a robot that may save us from their demise: the B-Droid. It’s a robotic bee that can buzz between flowers and pollinate plants. And the biggest winner might be the bees, because–if the robot-bees are successful–real bees won’t need to be transported all over the world to pollinate commercial crops. They can stay at home and relax.
The B-Droid is the latest iteration of a four-year-long project led by Rafał Dalewski of University of Technology’s Faculty of Power and Aeronautical Engineering. The first version trundled along on wheels, carrying its own computer, and cameras to detect any flowers in the vicinity. The latest B-Droid is a drone, a quad-copter which contains the same tech in a much smaller, much more practical package. When the robo-bee spots a flower, it moves in, gently brushing pollen from the flower before moving on to the next flower, and doing the same thing. The main computer is kept on the ground, but the B-Droid’s on-board brain can process images and send data wirelessly back to base. Between the two, the droid plots an optimal path from flower to flower.
The flying B-Droid has severe limits, though. It can only stay up for a few minutes at a time, thanks to its high power requirements and its small size. By contrast, the roving, wheeled bee can manage over two hours on a charge.
The wheeled B-Droid has been tested with garlic and strawberries, and can successfully pollinate both. In tests, garlic plants tended by the robot yielded 165 seeds, compared to just 23 seeds in a control area. The B-Droid’s seeds were also 6% heavier, a sign of a better quality seed.
Bees colonies are transported from farm to farm in order to pollinate crops, but the stress and intense hard work can cause the bees to drop dead from exhaustion. This, combined with the ever dwindling populations of bees throughout the world, spells doom for farmers. Dalewski hopes to make his robots commercially available in two years, but he will begin with the wheeled version, which is still way more practical. “Using wheels is more energy efficient,” Dalewski told the Warsaw University of Technology’s Monika Bukowska, “with a small gel battery allowing the robot to work more than two hours in the field, and even all day with an additional generator.”
Humans always complain about having their jobs taken over by robots, but if the B-Droid is a success, the real bees are unlikely to complain.