A recent report on NewScientist.com highlights how drones that can pollinate flowers might one day work side by side with bees to improve crop yields.
Eijiro Miyako at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and his colleagues have used the principle of cross-pollination in bees to make a drone that transports pollen between flowers.
The manually controlled drone is 4 centimeters wide and weighs 15 grams. The bottom is covered in horsehair coated in a special sticky gel. When the drone flies onto a flower, pollen grains stick lightly to the gel, then rub off on the next flower visited.
In experiments, the drone was able to cross-pollinate Japanese lilies (Lilium japonicum). Moreover, the soft, flexible animal hairs did not damage the stamens or pistils when the drone landed on the flowers.
Miyako says the team is now working on developing autonomous drones that could help growers pollinate their crops. GPS, high-resolution cameras, and artificial intelligence will be required for the drones to independently track their way between flowers and land on them correctly, though it will be some time before all that is in place.
“We hope this will help counter the problem of bee declines,” Miyako says. “But more importantly, bees and drones should be used together.”