The decline in bee populations has raised serious concerns in recent years, with some alarmists even suggesting it could mean the end of human life as we know it. Scientists are working every day to ensure such predictions remain a dark fantasy, but they face a difficult challenge.
It appears there are numerous factors involved in these die-offs. And for many of the symptoms, such as the mysterious colony collapse disorder, researchers continue to search for a cause or causes.
Some might see it as being a defeatist to start searching for pollinator alternatives, but it is a realistic approach when no other solutions are presenting themselves.
Dr. Rafał Dalewski from the Department of Power Engineering and Aviation of Warsaw University of Technology has developed one possible pollinator option, known as B-Droid.
“It’s not an artificial bee,” he explained in a university article. “What we are doing is an automatic system for pollinating plants. That is something completely different.”
The B-Droid is an autonomous robot that is mounted on a mobile platform that drives between rows of plants and uses its two small cameras to recognize flowers and determine whether they need to be pollinated.
“The most important thing we are preparing is the software for color and shape recognition and controlling a robot so that the device will be able to recognize and adjust itself to different flowers,” Dalewski said.
After localizing the flower in three-dimensional space, it will move over the plant and gently use a whisk to move pollen between the blossoms without damaging them.
The B-Droid has already been tested successfully on both strawberry and garlic crops. The researchers are now studying its effectiveness in other applications.
They are also working on a flying model that is more bee-like in appearance, though it is several times larger than an actual bee.
“It is only the beginning of the technical revolution in gardening and agriculture,” Dalewski told Ukraine Today. “If we talk about spacious gardens or fields, flying B-Droids are much more suitable.”
The Polish scientists hope the automatic pollinator can aid in food production, but they have not delved into producing honey as well.