Bees Disappear, Drone Pollinators Pick up the Slack

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bees
Anna Haldewang | Plan Bee

Apart from creating honey, bees have a vital mission that’s intimately linked to human life: pollination, which allows plants to reproduce. Unfortunately, the world is witnessing a massive and global disappearance of bees which compromises the very survival of the plant kingdom. However, to solve this dilemma, one student imagined a robotic bee that could take charge of cross-pollination.

If bees go extinct, who will cross-pollinate in the plant kingdom?Click To Tweet

A World Without Bees Looks Bleak

There would be little biodiversity without bees. The world without bees is a world without flowers, one where all flora and fauna could disappear little by little, and humanity would follow suit.

Appearing 130 million years ago, bees allowed for the evolution of flowering plants and their survival. When foraging, bees pollinate the flowers inadvertently. As they forage for nectar, the bee rubs against the flower’s male reproductive part (stamen), collects the pollen, transport it to the next flower and deposit it on the female reproductive part (pistil).

Worldwide, and especially in the industrialized countries, bees are in decline, and many species are threatened. Climatic changes, the disappearance of nesting sites, the scarcity of plant species associated with pollinators, and the devastating effects of agrochemicals (pesticides) have led to cascades of local species extinctions.

The United Nations estimates that out of the 100 plant species that provide 90% of the world’s food, more than 70% depend on bees for their pollination. The UN report also predicts that 20,000 flowering plant species upon which many bee species depend for food could be lost forever over the next decades.

Plan Bee: Robotic Pollinator Bees

Anna Haldewang, a 24-year-old senior at the Savannah College of Art and Design, has developed a drone that can fulfill the function of pollination just like a real bee. Anna had this ingenious idea when her professor challenged his class to create an object capable of stimulating plant growth. It took Anna no less than 50 variations to settle on the present design, seeking to give it the functionality of a bee rather than its aesthetics.

Fitting in one hand, and perhaps looking more like a butterfly, Plan Bee is a lightweight robotic drone that’s made of foam core and plastic shell body with propellers. Mimicking the way bees pollinate the flowers, the drone hovers over the flower and sucks pollen through six holes, stores it in a cavity and then releases it once it gets to the next flower.

Plan Bee is still in the prototype stage, but Anna Haldewang, who first thought about it as an educational tool, says she is fine-tuning the drone and intends to market it in about two years.

We can’t help but make a link between these drone bees and the series Black Mirror. In the third season finale, “Hated in the Nation”, was a similar story of robotic bees used to pollinate crops, except that this swarm of bees became a terrifying weapon.

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