INNOVATION

Robotic Bees Designed To Polinate Plants Are Now A Real Thing

Yes, it's just like that episode of 'Black Mirror'.

10/02/2017 10:09 AM AEDT | Updated 10/02/2017 2:53 PM AEDT

Japanese scientists have developed a flying robot capable of cross-pollinating plant. That's right, a bee drone.

In order for plants to reproduce, the stamen, which are male parts of the flower, produce pollen which fertilises the pistils, the female parts. While some plants self-pollinate, others need insects, especially bees, to carry the pollen from flower to flower.

It's come to the point where scientists are actually engineering a robot to replace the work of an animal species because of widespread decline of bee populations around the world. Last year, seven bee species were declared to be endangered in the United States for the first time.

The device is a small drone with a layer of horse hair on the surface. The hair is covered in a chemical compound that picks up pollen as it flies by flowers, transferring it from the stamen to the pistils. The hope is that someday an automated version of this robot could be used to cross-pollinate crops.

The research from Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) has been published in the science journal Chem.

"The global pollination crisis is a critical issue for the natural environment and our lives. 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," the authors write.

Although the day where this could be economically viable is a long way off, Sam Cunningham from the Australian National University told New Scientist. The best way to manage pollination at the moment is to breed crops that self-pollinate and to take better care of bees to ensure they survive into the future.

Meanwhile, we can't help but be reminded of the final episode of season three of 'Black Mirror' called 'Hated in the Nation'. The ep featured a killer swarm of robotic bees, initially designed to replace natural bees, that targets people who have the most #deathto[insert person here] tags against their name on social media. Freaky.



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