Fev 10, 2017

Should we let pollinating drones take over for honeybees?

Three-quarters of the world's food crops require pollination, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, but more than 40 percent of the species that perform this vital service are under threat.

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Not yet, and the reasons go beyond a love of honey.

Researchers across disciplines have been searching for solutions. Some focus on ways to protect the bees and other crucial pollinators. But others are looking outside of the natural world for ways to protect crops like fruits, vegetables, nuts, berries, and even chocolate and coffee. Perhaps an army of robotic pollinators could keep humans well-supplied in these foods, some engineers have thought. And that's just the line of thinking that led a team of researchers in Japan to design a small drone capable of pollinating flowers. 

After studying honeybees, Eijiro Miyako, a senior researcher at the Nanomaterials Research Institute in Japan, and colleagues realized they could use an ionic liquid gel to pick up the pollen from one flower and deposit it on another. But they couldn't paint the gel directly onto the slippery plastic of the little flying robot they were using. Instead, they needed something like the brush-like hairs that pick up pollen on bees. They tried affixed horsehairs to the drone and then added the ionic gel.

The researchers tested their device on the large, pink flowers of Japanese lilies. And it worked. 

The Christian Science Monitor
Eva Botkin-Kowacki
Staff writer |
 @EBotkinKowacki