Researchers have created tiny drones that can lead to the development of devices that can do the job of bees. Experts, however, think that the technology would not be able to completely substitute real bees when it comes to pollinating plants.
Pollinating Drones May Help Counter Effects Of Declining Number Of Bees
Insect-sized drones equipped with the ability to gather and release pollen grains can potentially buffer the impact of the dwindling population of honeybees.
The pollinating drones may possibly work with bees to pollinate plants and crops, which are affected because of the declining number of the insects due to disease, use of pesticide and changing climate.
Eijiro Miyako, from the Nanomaterials Research Institute in Japan, and colleagues developed a little flying robot with brush-like hairs and ionic liquid gel (ILG) that can pick up pollen from one flower and deposit it to another and then tested the device on Japanese lilies.
Reporting in a paper in the journal Chem on Thursday, Feb. 9, Miyako and colleagues said that the result of their experiment was promising.
"We were able to achieve effective pollen adsorption by ILG-functionalized Formica japonica specimens from Tulipa gesneriana flowers with high biocompatibility," the researchers reported. "A radiowave-controllable e bio-inspired flying robot equipped with ILG-coated vertically aligned animal hairs could be used to successfully pollinate Lilium japonicum flowers."
Pollinating Robots Currently Not Most Feasible Solution
The artificial plant pollinators may eventually lead to the development of drones that can help pollinate crops amid the declining population of bees but experts said such devices would not be the most feasible solution.
For one, using drones to pollinate crops can be a more costly alternative to relying on bees. Using the same drones that the researchers in Japan built, the cost of using tiny robots as pollinators would be equal to up to $100 per bee.
"I'm not sure that's going to be cheap enough to not make blueberries hundreds of dollars a pint," said Taylor Ricketts, from the University of Vermont.
Drones May Damage The Flowers
Ricketts also has concerns that using the tiny robots may have unwanted consequences on a plant's biology saying the drone may damage the flowers by bruising, bending or breaking the stigma, the female part that receives the pollen.
The lily used by the researchers in their experiment is a relatively easy flower for a drone to pollinate because of its shape and easy access to its pollen. It would be more difficult with smaller flowers with more complex structures.
The drones also have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to matching living pollinators, which includes bees and butterflies. Existing pollinators have honed their skills to be adept at the complex task of pollinating over millions of years of evolution.
"All these adaptations make our pollinators very efficient at what they do. Similar skills would have to be developed into a team of pollinating drones in order for them to work as efficient pollinators," wrote Elizabeth Franklin, from Bournemouth University.