Scientists Say Robotic Bees Equipped with GPS Trackers Could Pollinate

6 Jun 2018

Around ten years ago, beekeepers around the globe alerted scientists to an alarming trend. Bee colonies were mysteriously disappearing at an unprecedented and disturbing rate. The colony collapse crisis continues to be a global concern because these animals participate in the crucial pollination process for over one-third of the plants humans consume. Some experts have valued the bee’s pollination process as high as $168 billion a year.

With natural bee colonies still in decline a decade later, scientists have resorted to creating a new fleet of RoboBees that could be trained to deposit pollen. These RoboBees are basically remote-controlled robot drones with electric wings. They are about half the size of a paper clip, but their potential workload could be huge.

Scientists at Harvard University and Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology want to equip RoboBees with GPS trackers that will allow them to be programmed to visit specific plants.

According to researchers at Harvard, these autonomously flying microrobots have the potential to additionally monitor the climate, conduct surveillance and be utilized in search and rescue missions. Harvard Magazine explains that the robot bee project’s “vision is to deploy hundreds or thousands of these tiny robots…that will complete a task as a collective entity.”

The GPS tracking will allow scientists to pre-program and automate the pollination delivery process, but some are warning that this unique feature could make the robot bees more vulnerable to hackers.

One professor from the University of Minnesota, Professor Shashi Shekhar, warns that these robotic bees could easily be hacked and transformed into killers. One Netflix series Black Mirror, which depicts a fleet of hacked killer robot bees, is not too far from a potential real-world scenario. Professor Shekhar explains how criminals could be used for a damaging purpose by adding on a stinger filled with chemicals.

While speaking at an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the professor expressed his belief that RoboBees will likely be deployed in the next few years.

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