Can We Pollinate Flowers With Tiny Flying Drones?

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An engineer in Japan has built a 1.6-inch “pollinator-bot” and successfully tested it in his lab. The drone’s creator “has armed it with paintbrush hairs that are covered in a special gel sticky enough to pick pollen up, but not so sticky that it holds on to that pollen when it brushes up against something else,” reports The Economist. They write that his experiments with the tiny drone “show that the drone can indeed carry pollen from flower to flower in the way an insect would — though he has yet to confirm that seeds result from this pollination.” While flown by a human pilot, next he hopes to equip the drones with their own flower-recognizing technology.

The Christian Science Monitor followed up with four experts, asking “Could a fleet of robo-pollinators replace, or at least supplement, the bees?” One said “There is no substitute for bees.” Another pointed out that even if robo-bees are developed, some flowers will prove harder to pollinate than others. A third expert thought the technology could scale, though it would need to be mass-produced, and the engineers would need to develop a reusable pollen-collecting gel. But a fourth expert remained worried that it just couldn’t scale without becoming too expensive. “I’m not sure that’s going to be cheap enough to not make blueberries hundreds of dollars a pint.”

Three of those experts also agreed that the best solution is just wild bees, because domesticated or not, “All they have to do is make sure to set aside enough land conducive to the bees’ habitat.”


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