Can billions of robotic insects save our food supply?
By: Jason Pepe February 10, 2016
Imagine robots smaller than paper clips. Well, get ready because the Micro Bot is here. This amazing creation was inspired by nature and developed at Harvard University. The project began in 2009 with the goal of creating coordinated agile robotic insects.
This very tiny Micro Bot is known as the Robobee and it’s really more like a drone than a robot. They are designed and engineered to work in swarms just like many insects.
Robobee was originally funded by the United States Department of Defense. The idea was to have a Micro Bot provide stealth surveillance solutions in military scenarios. Today research is looking at the agricultural use of Robobee as well.
Robobee can fly and hover like a real bee. It has a pair of tiny translucent wings that flap at a rate of 120 flaps per second. But that is not all. Robobee can also slow its wing speed down to 9 flaps per second and dive into water to navigate like a micro submarine.
Some agricultural applications for Robobee
Insect control) Robobee could be a predatory insect that attacks a plant pest (not the plant) by inoculating it with an insecticide or other biological control.
Scare Crow) Fly over a field and send a radio signal that keeps birds away from fruits and vegetables.
Diagnose plants) Fly to and examine plant leaves, stems etc. for diseases or nutrient deficiencies.
Plant pollination) Robobee can do the job of bees and other insects.
Bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a serious problem affecting bees. This collapse started in 2006. The exact cause of this problem is controversial and still no cause or solution has been found. CCD is a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear leaving the Queen in the hive without hope of survival.
The planet without bees to pollinate plants would not be a happy place to say the least. Bees are responsible for pollinating approximately 400 different agricultural types of plants.
Many insects besides bees pollinate plants. The bee however is among the most important.
Can the Robobee assist in plant pollination? The researchers certainly think so and are working hard to make it possible. They believe plant pollination by Robobee will be a reality in about 20 years. Robobee will have a pollination and docking appendage. See image above for more details.
To achieve the goal of creating a micro bot that can mimic the capabilities of a bee will require the development of three critical areas.
Right now Robobee can fly and hover, but must be tethered to a power supply. This Micro Bots future truly depends on the development of a high energy power source that can be inserted into the Micro Bot. That would be one very small battery indeed.
Maybe we should invest and have the best minds solve the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder. I don’t ever want to see a world that relies on technology to do what Mother Nature is supposed to do. All of this technology certainly offers some hope and a plan of action for a just in case scenario.