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Robotic pollinators to the rescue
EVERY THING THAT GROWS and is harvested in
agriculture is dependent on pollination. Bats, birds, bees,
and other flying insects are the main pollinators that we
depend on to pollinate our crops. According to a recent
United Nations report, about 75 percent of the world’s
crops, including apples, oranges, cherries, carrots,
and even co;ee, depend at least in part on natural
pollination. But today, many pollinators, particularly
insects like bees and butterflies, are under threat.
;ere has been a marked decline in insect-pollinator
populations, and without these little guys, the fruits and
veggies we consume are in danger of serious decline.
What’s needed are artificial mechanisms to help out
And it looks like help is, indeed, on the way.
Researchers in Japan recently used a tiny drone to
successfully pollinate flowers. ;ey attached a patch
of horsehair bristles from a paintbrush to a miniature
RC drone, and they coated the bristles with a special
ionic liquid gel. ;is sticky gel is a crucial part of the
process as it needs to capture and then deposit the
pollen. ;e gel used with the drone isn’t water based
and so doesn’t dry out. It worked perfectly, and the
pollination of large wild lilies in the test was confirmed
with fluorescent microscopy.
One of the authors of the study, Eijiro Miyako, of
the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science
and Technology in Japan, says, “;is is the world’s first
demonstration of pollination by an artificial robotic
Much work remains to emulate the complex
behavior of insects and animals, but these early
experiments are a great first step to help supplement
the declining numbers of nature’s pollinators.
LIKE BEES AND BUTTERFLIES,
ARE UNDER THREAT. WHAT’S
NEEDED ARE ARTIFICIAL
MECHANISMS TO HELP OUT
Here is a photo of the quadcopter used
in the research. You can see the patch of
horsehair bristles coated with the ionic gel
used to collect and deposit pollen.