Drone-Drone

Yes, the pun was ripped off the article that got our attention . It was just too good not to share. A team of researchers in Japan created an artificial honeybee, a small drone that is meant to cross-pollinate flowers. The (still) manually controlled drone is 4 centimetres wide and weighs only 15 grams. At the bottom side of the drone, a mix of a special sticky gel and horse hair resides. The purpose of this gel is to collect the pollen particles as it bumps into the flowers and exchange it as it goes hopping around from plant to plant. In experiments, the drone was able to cross-pollinate Japanese lilies (Lilium japonicum) without damaging the plant, stamens or pistils when the drone flew into the flowers.

The gel used for the artificial pollinators was the result of a failed experiment back in 2007. While researching electrical conduction liquids, Eijiro Miyako, a chemist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) Nanomaterial Research Institute, produced a sticky gel with no useful electrical characteristics and stored it away in a cabinet. After 8 years, when cleaning the cabinet, he found the gel still sitting there, unspoiled.

“This project is the result of serendipity. We were surprised that after 8 years, the ionic gel didn’t degrade and was still so viscous. Conventional gels are mainly made of water and can’t be used for a long time, so we decided to use this material for research.”

The artificial honeybee prototype is a simple hack, a commercially available mini-drone with the gel embedded horse hair attached. The point was the proof of concept. It works.

As the worlds bee population keeps decreasing, as soon as this tech is perfected the better. In fact, it is already urgently needed in some parts of the world. Drone drones have been imagined in Sci-Fi many times over… with a recent Black Mirror episode using millions of autonomous drones as a plot device for mayhem. The work the biological bees do is both crucial and monumental — let’s hope it doesn’t come to point that we must replace the population with their technological counterparts because building and maintaining that system is much scarier than fiction.

[via Motherboard]

24 thoughts on “Drone-Drone

      1. Also might stop caring about eating and by extension living as a small drone will not be as any where near as efficient or as low cost as real bees.
        A drone that size would struggle to fly for a few minutes while a bee can fly for hours and refuels it’s self from the very flowers it pollinates.
        A bee not only has a decent visual system that works in UV it also has a sense of smell close to a blood hound we can’t even make an artificial version of that that could fit on a pterodactyl let alone an insect.

  1. 4cm wide? Does not fit into my ear canal, so i’m not that scared yet that the Black Mirror Scenario is soon upon us.
    Really the biggest problem here is that it’s just a remote controlled quadrocopter (a drone would do the task autonomously), and that payable battery-tech is just not there yet to support a flight time of more than a few minutes.
    Now you want to add a camera and the processing power to make them find flowers more autonomous, and your energy problem gets even bigger…
    I don’t think we can replace current biological “tech” like real insects that easily, unless we harness more of the biological energy and locomotion systems and artificially build a more true to the nature “bee-copy”.

        1. Awwww…. don’t get me started! My black little heart melted over that episode! It was so nice! And completely out of character for Black Mirror, usually a painless death is about the best you can hope for if you find yourself in an episode.

          The rest of the series was great too. Except Playtest of course, which was bollocks AND nonsense on a technical level.

          The robot honeybees were just bollocks on a technical level. Robot bees can’t self-reproduce. Tiny bees can’t manufacture processors in little plastic hives. Each bee had a CPU, camera, radio communications, and whatever else, and they all require enormous billion-dollar factories to produce.

          They were also way too small to run on batteries. They apparently used their wings as solar panels to charge themselves, which is also, well, bollocks. Far too small for something that actively flies around all day. The quadcopter in the picture above I bet doesn’t run for 15 minutes. A solar panel as heavy as it could carry would take days and days to charge it up. One small enough to fit on a robot bee’s back would never charge it up, system losses would be greater than it’s output.

          That spoiled it. The fact that the idea was so ludicrous technically. It was also pretty far-fetched just in general. And yet the protagonists took it completely seriously, instantly. Nobody said “like, WTF?”, nobody laughed. Teeny weeny impossible bees were burrowing into people’s brains, fair enough.

          Now I remember it, something that small couldn’t dig through bone with it’s tiny little legs either. Well, maybe if it had years and years to grind it down by attrition.

          Finally (from what I remember right now, not from the programme cos there’s LOADS more failures than these), an MRI scanner won’t make a metal bee come flying out of your head like a bullet. I’ve been MRI scanned. I’ve also got metal (non-ferrous, obviously) bits implanted in my body. The problem with metal is, it makes MRI scans blurry around that area. Must interfere with the RF I expect, or maybe the magnetic field.

          Sooo….

          Yep San Junipero though was great! And most of the others were pretty great too. White Rabbit, from series 2, is also legendary.

  2. More like something out of Phantasm. Let me see if I get the idea behind the fake bee: The propeller shreds the pistol and stamen making the flower and seed production impossible. The bird or others that prey on bee’s will be die from ingesting or maimed by said bee thing. Soil poisoned by its battery breaking down. I leave the rest to our fertile imaginations, because our crops will not be.

    “Honey, run down to the hardware store, the big one outside town that put the little one down the street out of business and buy a box of bees for the garden. Check the date code and make sure its a fresh box, nothing worse than a box of bees with dead batteries. And follow the directions this time and shoo the birds away, remove beneficial insects if any are still alive, place a plastic sheet around each plant to recover dead bees so as not to further destroy things”.

      1. I suppose you could pay immigrants to do it. Collect pollen from a few flowers, then apply it to the rest with a paintbrush. Human bees, on below minimum wage. They can sleep in the greenhouses.

    1. “So robot bees have killed every bird to death, and now birds are extinct? No problem! Check our our new, ROBOT BIRDS!”

      The robot birds would be fuelled from any leftover charge in the robot bees’ batteries. Little factories inside them would use the recovered metal to make robot chicks, in robot eggs. Their primary job would be to shit on statues.

  3. Daft like a joke, but troubling.

    In truth we may have a need for the thing. Don’t know, but it’s sure starting to look that way.

    Was it truely a quote from Einstein that we have just 4 yrs left once the bees are gone?

    1. Also a real bee can fly for hours and refuels it’s self from nectar from the flowers it pollinates.
      All the intelligence needed for it to do it’s job is inside it.
      The drone would need a remote computer as you’re not putting anything more powerful than an KL03 inside it.
      This likely means the video feed to the controlling computer will have to be analog so good luck finding enough radio channels.

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