Puffins, dolphins, and flying fish are the naturals with the ability to move from one location to other in no time. Now, it is the Robo-Bee joining their routine. Robo-Bees are bot sized bees with tiny flapping wings re-engineered to fly, swim, and land safely, just like a living organism. There is a lot of research related to Robo-Bees in progress and very soon, we will witness these ‘artificial insects’ humming their songs in many industries. Food and agriculture is one such a sector where Robo-Bees could have a great number of applications.
The insects like bees contribute a lot in the vegetable and fruit production by pollinating the crops. More than 75% of the world's food crops rely at least in part on pollination by insects and other animals. According to a 2016 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, between $235 billion and $577 billion worth of annual global food production depends on direct contributions by pollinators. However, in the recent years, large colonies of bees have been disappearing, called – ‘a bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)’. In fact, in April 2018, the European Union had to take an extreme decision to ban use of pesticides containing harmful neonicotinoids to protect bee population.
The declining population of bees has generated need of an alternative which can mimic their (bees) task, and perform ‘nature-independent farming’. ‘Jumping robot spiders and swarms of robotic bees’ were once assumed to be the stuff of science fiction. However, scientific superminds and technological advancements are bringing artificial intelligence to revolutionize farming. Scientists across the globe are thriving to develop Robo-Bees which is thought to be a very suitable invention to replace natural bees. One such an effort is in progress at the Tomsk Polytechnic University (Russia). They have proposed a fleet of robot-bee prototypes and have planned their launch by 2019. The cost of developing the first batch of flying robo-bees will be ~$1.4 million.
A recent move by the retail giant- Walmart has indicated that, in future, Robo-Bees won’t be treated as an option to replace declining honeybee population. Rather, they will be used as a mainstream tool to cut costs and increase agriculture efficiency. In March 2018, Wallmart filed a patent for autonomous robot bees (pollination drones), which can help to pollinate crops. The drones would likely take the form of a multicopter – a type of aerial vehicle that fly using two or more rotating blades. The drones would be controlled via a centralised computer system. They would operate day and night. Walmart also filed five additional patents for farming drones, including one drone that tracks down plant pests, and another that monitors the health of crops.
Food production needs to be increased by 70% from its present yield to feed the projected 9 billion population in 2050. Conversely, we foresee a large amount of natural bee population dyeing off in the near future which may generate food scarcity. In such a scenario, Robo-Bees- are all set to aggressively penetrate the food and agriculture sector.