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Earth Transportation Science

Can We Pollinate Flowers With Tiny Flying Drones? (economist.com) 130

An anonymous reader writes: An engineer in Japan has built a 1.6-inch "pollinator-bot" and successfully tested it in his lab. The drone's creator "has armed it with paintbrush hairs that are covered in a special gel sticky enough to pick pollen up, but not so sticky that it holds on to that pollen when it brushes up against something else," reports The Economist. They write that his experiments with the tiny drone "show that the drone can indeed carry pollen from flower to flower in the way an insect would -- though he has yet to confirm that seeds result from this pollination." While flown by a human pilot, next he hopes to equip the drones with their own flower-recognizing technology.

The Christian Science Monitor followed up with four experts, asking "Could a fleet of robo-pollinators replace, or at least supplement, the bees?" One said "There is no substitute for bees." Another pointed out that even if robo-bees are developed, some flowers will prove harder to pollinate than others. A third expert thought the technology could scale, though it would need to be mass-produced, and the engineers would need to develop a reusable pollen-collecting gel. But a fourth expert remained worried that it just couldn't scale without becoming too expensive. "I'm not sure that's going to be cheap enough to not make blueberries hundreds of dollars a pint."

Three of those experts also agreed that the best solution is just wild bees, because domesticated or not, "All they have to do is make sure to set aside enough land conducive to the bees' habitat."
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Can We Pollinate Flowers With Tiny Flying Drones?

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  • Black Mirror (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 12, 2017 @01:37PM (#53851447)

    Apparently after getting a laughing face for a president (orange instead of blue), more Black Mirror episodes are coming true.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hated_in_the_Nation_(Black_Mirror)

    • And read the story reported here of the university that was attacked by its own IoT.

      Also, these things take energy and our ability to control is limited. We fantasizes 50 years ago that we could have a grid of sensors to predict the weather. We fantasizes we could replace tree with machines to clean our atmosphere. There is some stuff we are just going to have to accept that nature does better and if we don't comply we will lose.

    • Came here to make this reply -- though I'd discount the impact of whoever tf ended up being president. These would be coming true regardless.

  • by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Sunday February 12, 2017 @01:38PM (#53851451)

    Sure would take a lot of drones. It might be easier to genetically engineer the bees to have genes to resist whatever is killing them - insecticide or parasites - by splicing in genes from bee species that are resistant but suboptimal for pollination. Bees are basically self replicating drones that can refuel and rebuild themselves from products supplied by the very flowers they are pollinating.

    But worst case scenario - if the bees all become extinct - we could use drones instead.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Tell me about the honey we'd get from drones. Might be kind of metallic.

    • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Sunday February 12, 2017 @01:58PM (#53851549) Journal
      It might be easier to stop using the chemicals that are killing the bees before we wreck the ecosystem to the point where we can't grow anything anymore!
      • by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Sunday February 12, 2017 @02:10PM (#53851611)

        If we can even figure out what they are, and if there are replacements, and if chemicals still in the environment don't keep killing bees or assholes breaking the laws don't keep using the chemicals after they are banned. Or if the government just refuses to ban the chemicals because the regulators are bribed by big business. Genetic engineering might just be easier.

        • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday February 12, 2017 @02:45PM (#53851761)

          If we can even figure out what they are

          We know what they are: Neoniotinoids [wikipedia.org].

          and if there are replacements

          There are plenty of good replacements.

          and if chemicals still in the environment

          Neonicotinoids are not particularly persistent. They are already banned in much of Europe. The are not banned in America mainly because of bureaucratic inertia. They don't need to be banned for all crops. For instance, it should be okay to use them on crops that don't attract bees, like corn. But for crops like alfalfa, they should not be used, and there should be penalties for misapplication.

          • We shouldn't be using that shit at all. Contrary to what big agribusiness preaches, it is possible to grow food without chemical fertilizers or -icides.
          • by mikael ( 484 )

            In the UK, they were used for rape seed fields - giant fields full of bright yellow flowers. Just driving along the road, and the air would smell oily/greasy. Even back in the 1990's, farmers noticed that these fields would make the large bees slow and dozy as they flew along. On a double decker bus, I would seen them being squished on the windows. Sometimes I see them crawling along the ground. Never sure whether it was just old age, exhaustion or something parasitic - their wings would seem to be dark br

          • Neonicotinoids are not particularly persistent. They are already banned in much of Europe.

            Right. And yet Europe is experiencing colony collapse disorder as well. The evidence that neonicotinoids have any contributing effect to CCD is... very weak, at best.

        • It's the same old story, really: People and corporations with money and power will do anything to maintain their wealth and influence, and they really don't care what happens after they're dead and gone; who cares if all the bees die, no pollination occurs anymore, and the entire chain of life collapses because one vital link in it is irrepairably broken? They get theirs, and that's all that matters to them.
      • It's amazing how quickly forget that messing with nature usually has dire consequences. Imported species (intentional or otherwise) have caused a tremendous amount of extinction events. Messing with bees gave us the Killer bee. Replace bees with flying drones, and kill off all the remaining bees.

        Ideas are not always meant to be implemented, but are best served as ideas on the drawing board that we can say "glad we didn't do that one" about.

    • by LiENUS ( 207736 )

      Sure would take a lot of drones. It might be easier to genetically engineer the bees to have genes to resist whatever is killing them

      They're not on the splicing genes yet but for $300 you can buy a queen specially engineered (through selective breeding an AI) to resist the stuff killing them, best yet her offspring queens actually do better than she does about resisting, though the generation after falls off.

    • That stuff you have been told about bee populations "collapsing"? More fake news [agprofessional.com].

      Who was losing bees s reality? Some corporate bee providers had a bit too much of a monoculture going and had some issues. Wild bees never had a problem.

      Everything generally you are being told to fear is a lie. Remember that carefully and apply it going forward.

      • Here locally a lot of medium sized beekeepers serving the factory farms have had ongoing problems, not just monoculture but generally with their very new formulas for winter feeding. This is true even for beekeepers in mostly organic areas, which we have a lot of around here.

        So the price of formerly-cheap honey did go up significantly, and the big farms had trouble contracting with beekeepers.

        But farmers who keep their own bees, and beekeepers using traditional formulas and leaving the bees a percent of the

    • You can not 'msplice in' a gene causing resistance to a random poison.
      If that was the case we woukd bio engineere ourselves to be resistant to lead or plutonium poisoning etc.

    • You'd have to genetically engineer the beekeepers to be less greedy and leave the bees enough honey to survive the winter.

      They can't do it; greed leads them to replace the honey with sugar water, or corn syrup, and the bees survive but their infection rate goes up. Since it doesn't kill them right away the first year you do it, and you won't lose all the colonies at once, the rural boneheads can't comprehend that it is their own fault.

      You can engineer the bee, but they'll just feed it less. And since there

      • This is a case of the free market working correctly, though. Beekeepers who do as you say eventually go out of business because their hives die. There are enough beekeepers and they are all independent from each other that so long as some beekeepers do it correctly, they'll still be in business in 5 years. Those beekeepers would expand, since their competition would be out of business, and eventually we live in a world where the only beekeepers in business for long do it right. Business Darwinism in act

  • by kencurry ( 471519 ) on Sunday February 12, 2017 @01:41PM (#53851461)
    This is about the third or forth slashdot story I've seen that was covered in a "Black Mirror" episode. Now I am really worried about the one with the politician and the pig ...
    • by djinn6 ( 1868030 )
      And it looks like this engineer missed the entire point of the episode, which tells you, loudly and clearly, exactly why you shouldn't build such a drone.

      Also, why the heck didn't they just cover up the woman's face while she was in the bathroom? The bees rely on facial recognition so they're not going to see past a piece of clothing and know she was the target.
    • To late
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      Prime Minister David Cameron "Allegedly" was willingly orally stimulated by a deceased pigs head during a fraternity hazing.

  • by Atmchicago ( 555403 ) on Sunday February 12, 2017 @01:43PM (#53851473)
    Let's come up with the ultimate pollinator robot:
    1. It can pollinate flowers
    2. It is automated
    3. It sources its own power
    4. It can reproduce, but without disturbing the environment
    5. It won't be owned by a corporation who uses them to exploit society

    Wait -- that sounds exactly like bees. How about we promote the bees, rather than replace them with robots?

    • How about we promote the bees, rather than replace them with robots?

      Gee, I dunno Mister Wizard.. it's a crazy idea, I know, but maybe, just maybe we could stop using the chemicals that are killing the bees?

      • by LiENUS ( 207736 )

        stop using the chemicals that are killing the bees?

        Which ones are those? Because so far studies show that it's not chemicals killing them, varroa destructor seems to be the main factor. Granted not all of those chemical studies are public yet, the most recent one was discussed at our club and it shows pretty conclusively that its not chemicals.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          All the public studies shows IT IS neoniotinoids that's killing them. And you think writing your post about how ONE secret study discussed a your secret club says otherwise?

          Fuck you, Bayer shill.

          • by LiENUS ( 207736 )

            The study is probably out now, was published by a LSU professor using samples from our bee club. None of the peer reviewed public studies show neonics are kiling bee colonies, they have a negative effect on the individuals but not the whole colony.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Neonicotinoids [wikipedia.org].

        • I don't know if you're a Bayer shill or not, but I will tell you this: There's enough money at stake in this that corporations (Bayer, or whoever) whose products might be responsible, would be willing to lie, cheat, steal, and let the bees die rather than lose their profits and/or be driven out of business. It's the same old story that keeps happening throughout human history: To Hell with 'tomorrow' so long as you get what you want right now; no bees to pollinate crops, essentially breaking a vital link in
          • by LiENUS ( 207736 )

            I was just talking to a beekeper at the social last week who's been keeping bees since before I was born. He laughed at the loss rates people were talking about with colony collapse disorder. The rates beekeepers see has historically always been 2-3x higher than claimed loss rates for ccd. It's varroa destructor killing the bees not pesticides. The loss rate now is the lowest its ever been. Hell even with the flooding his loss this year is historically better than the commercial guys have seen in the past.

    • So in your mind when a business (a company, a person) come up with a product that people want/need they are 'exploiting the society'? The current state of economics is tightly related to the current state of education and the current state of education is tightly related to the current desires of the dominant ruling class to keep their rule. Thus we have people whobthibk that somebody trying to make money by building useful products is exploiting them and the society.

      Personally I hope we build the elect

      • There is a middle ground between creating a product that people want/need and "exploiting society"... I believe that in SOME situations (and this may be one of them) this kind of behaviour is indeed exploitation.

        An extreme example would be if a water company started poisoning the water supply so that they could sell their bottled water. And while I understand that companies are not intentionally killing bees, it doesn't seem like they have any interest in stopping it.

        Going back to the water example, if Ne
        • OK, stop the presses, apparently the companies are creating the problems they are then solving and seeking you the solution. Those food companies make you hungry, those airlines first take you places and leave you no way out but yo buy their tickets. You have built a nice strawman there, I guess you are here to burn it.

    • Exactly so. Thank you for pointing out this obvious - but apparently incomprehensible - fact.

    • so why not both? Here in the States though it's hard convincing the population that this kind of science (the kind that doesn't pay off _right_now_) is worth doing. It was all well and good when we were fighting commies but we don't need science to fight terrorists. So NASA's budget gets cut for another round of tax cuts & shelters and we just elected an Administration that doesn't believe in governing...
    • OK, how about a giant cluster of space farms, that will need the robot pollinators right?

  • "All they have to do is make sure to set aside enough land conducive to the bees' habitat."

    When one looks at all the dense pack housing going up, destroying entire forests and paving over every blade of grass, it's not surprising the bees are dying out. What do you expect when all one sees is acre upon acre of asphalt and concrete?

    I drive by developments which have been up for years and all I see are scraggily trees and, if very lucky, a single, solitary bed of flowers at someone's house. The rest are simp

    • Considering we're supposed to be the smartest animal on the planet you'd think we would have learned by now.

      A few individuals - a very few - are intelligent, and of those some are creatively intelligent. The species homo sapiens is not intelligent. How can you argue otherwise, when other social animals such as wasps, ants, bees and termites have thriven for over 100 million years, whereas we have existed as a distinct species for maybe 2 million years and in our present, grotesquely mutated, "civilized" form for 10,000 years - and we are on the very brink of self-extermination?

      There is no call for anything drasti

      • If you judge the intelligence of a species based on how long they have survived, algae and amoebas must be the closest thing to Einstein we have.
      • Just because Heinlein said this in a novel does not make it right! Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Over most part of history people were 'relatively rich'. Having their own 'houses' where ever they traveled, living from the land, which they did not need to own.
        Poverty emerged when aristrocaty emerged and started to device people into people 'who have' and 'have nots' and even demanded tribute or taxes from the 'have nots'.
        Still today as populated as the planet is, there is no rea

    • When one looks at all the dense pack housing going up ...

      Nonsense. The problem is exactly the opposite. The NIMBYs have used zoning laws and permit restrictions to effectively ban dense housing, so we get low density sprawl instead.

      • Because New York, LA, Dallas, Chicago and all other cities have NIMBY syndrome.

        Low density sprawl is better since there is at least some land left to plant trees and/or flowers. Even on a 1/10 acre lot there could be numerous shrubs and plants for bees to pollinate.

        Instead, we get blocks of rowhomes on a plot of land just big enough to put a swingset on.

        This doesn't even get into the thousands of acres of farmland, and I'm not talking just corn or wheat, being paved over.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Bots do it... drones do it
    Even educated phones do it!
    Let's do it ...

    • by TWX ( 665546 )

      Bots do it... drones do it
      Even educated phones do it!
      Let's do it ...

      Let's bathe them in bloooOOOOoood!

      With apologies to the overlords of the robot uprising...

  • by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Sunday February 12, 2017 @02:04PM (#53851585)

    “Every year, in late winter or early spring, some 3,000 trucks drive across the United States carrying around 40 billion bees to California’s Central Valley, which houses more than 60 million almond trees... Californian growers now spend $250 million a year on bees”.

    "Farmageddon", Philip Lymbery with Isabel Oakeshott, p 63.

    Californian growers do not spend that money for fun. They do it because otherwise they will have no crop. Good luck producing 40 billion tiny artificial bees. (Although if the idea goes forward I would buy shares in the manufacturer - just as you will notice that there has never been a massive government IT project that Oracle didn't love).

    A simpler and more practical idea would be to stop killing off the bees, which do a great job entirely free of charge.

    • A simpler and more practical idea would be to stop killing off the bees, which do a great job entirely free of charge.

      I agree that we should be saving the bees - although I will point out that the pollinator all those California growers depend on is the European Honey Bee, a non-native species. Also while the bees work for free, the companies trucking them around most assuredly do not - and, without them, there would not be nearly enough local bees to support California's densely-planted monoculture farms.

      • I will point out that the pollinator all those California growers depend on is the European Honey Bee, a non-native species.

        Thanks! I did not know that.

    • Bees need habitat to live in. It turns out, massive fields of mono-culture crops are not bee-friendly habitat. So the farmers created this problem by designing their fields to be as productive as possible. Now, maybe they could remove plots of crops and make bee habitat there, allowing bees to flourish. But if that was a better financial idea, I'd guess that they'd have done that already.
       
      I bet trucking bees in is the cheapest way to do it. So they'll keep doing it.

  • by Freischutz ( 4776131 ) on Sunday February 12, 2017 @02:15PM (#53851651)

    Can We Pollinate Flowers With Tiny Flying Drones?

    Probably yes, but why not just spend the money on fixing colony collapse disorder? It seems much more efficient to just breed bees that are resistant to the varroa mite and the various viruses causing CCD and cutting down on pesticide use. If necessary it must be possible to introduce genes from resistant species of bees into vulnerable bee species elsewhere.

  • The economics that drive the planet's destruction are far, far outpacing our technology to do anything about it.

    It's going to be some fucking expensive produce to warrant swarms of nano pollenator bots where bees used to do these things for free... fresh fruit will be a technological wonder where once it literally grew on trees.

    It's shameful that we invest in this idea while we collectively ignore the massive loss of species/habitat to fuel our economic paradigms. Perhaps our extinction is earned more tha

    • by Anonymous Coward

      We can't solve social problems with technology.

      You're right on the money. It is the economy that is destroying the environment. So how can we change that?

      • by TWX ( 665546 )

        We can't solve social problems with technology.

        That is not entirely true.

        Various forms of birth control like the diaphragm, condoms, the pill, and Anime have already been shown to reduce overpopulation problems.

  • ...we could just stop killing all the bees.

  • Perhaps we should just bring in some cheap H1-Bees to take care of the pollination problem.

    • Perhaps we should just bring in some cheap H1-Bees to take care of the pollination problem.

      We tried that already, by importing Africanized Killer Bees. Things didn't work out very well.

      But it was the inspiration for a slew of cheap and sleazy Sci-Fi flicks:

      "If you like the A-Team, you'll love the Bee-Team!"

      Bee-Movies, indeed.

  • Wait, so now even the *bees* have to worry about losing their jobs to robots? Cripes.
  • not eliminating the underlying reasons and - in case it would work on a larger scale, who is making money on this BS? - manifest the incapacity of current systems to eliminate systemic malfunction endangering ... - A LOT !!! (wherever your conditioned imagination allows you to to).

  • Can We Pollinate Flowers With Tiny Flying Drones?

    Whenever a question is the headline to an article here, the answer is always no. It's the first fundamental rule of slashdot.
  • In the old days we'd have to do it manually [wordpress.com]

  • Is it possible? Maybe? Should we do it? Probably not, considering there are currently 7 species of bees that are on the endangered species list [npr.org]. We should be very careful about knowledge that can be used to affect the balance of nature.
  • I've had a 1.6" pollinator bot for 40 years - in my pants!
  • Pollination is good and all, but I'd like to see a model that can also kill all the caterpillars in a chemical-free fashion while it's at it.

  • Missing bees, Amerrikens, eh? We've got plenty of them here in Europe because we're not as stupid as you are. Simple as that.

Keep up the good work! But please don't ask me to help.

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