It’s almost been two weeks since Walmart’s patent application for robot bees came to light. Unsurprisingly, the idea if building drones to mimic what bees can do has gone viral.
The behemoth corporation’s patent specifically covers “pollination drones,” pertaining to tiny robots that act just like bees to pollinate crops autonomously. While Walmart hasn’t confirmed, it could be a sign that the company is venturing further into the idea of expanding its own agricultural practices and crop production.
The RoboBee was one of the several drone patents designed for farming, including one that predicts yield, tracks the health of crops, and another one that identifies pests.
News of the patent came just days after Walmart announced its intentions of expanding its grocery delivery system with the goal of reaching more than half of the total population of the U.S. With faster delivery time, the company would win the race among other grocery stores offering the same services.
The Plight of the Bees
Meanwhile, honeybee populations are dwindling in numbers and the world can no longer afford to take pollination for granted. Bees are the backbone of agriculture, and they greatly contribute to the modern food system. It’s the reason why scientists and researchers continue their research to better understand the declining population of pollinators.
Between 2016 and 2017, American beekeepers reported a loss of 33% of their bees. While those losses are relatively lower than the previous years, thanks to modern supplementation systems like BeesVita Plus from Healthy Bees LLC, what’s alarming is that we have a consistent death count yearly.
The declining bee population spells trouble for crop production, as they are responsible for almost one-third of the food we consume. Researchers said that the reason behind the reduction of bee numbers was due to colony collapse disorder, which is caused by the unregulated use of pesticides in many fields worldwide.
Are Robot Bees A Good Idea?
While there are a noble group of people working hard to save bees, scientists have joined the pro-bee pool, bringing robotic versions of the important pollinators.
In Japan, researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology designed a robot that had successfully collected pollen. It’s so small — 4 centimeters and all — but is capable of cross-pollination.
The base of the drone is covered in sticky gel-coated horsehair, when the robot bee flies onto a flower, pollen will stick lightly to the gel then leaves it off to the next flower. In one of their experiments, the drone was successful in cross-pollinating Lilium japonicum, commonly called Japanese lilies.
Harvard University researchers also introduced the first robotic bees in 2013, although the drones needed to be attached to a power source. However, Harvard’s list of what the RoboBee is capable of doing can revolutionize not only farming. Climate mapping, military surveillance, and traffic monitoring could change as well.
Robot Bees: A Threat to Earth?
As the current bee crisis gets worse, artificial pollination techniques just make sense. Tiny drones acting as pollinators doesn’t seem like a bad idea. However, Walmart’s new patent has prompted some scientists to worry, especially that this kind of project has never been enacted on a grand scale. They argued that although the idea of robot bees is to help, there might be unintended effects on the environment.
Scientific innovations that aim for the betterment of the world must be supported at all cost, but it would be great if the attention is focused on saving bees instead of designing replacements. As of now, we can only hope that Walmart has this idea in consideration.