With around 75% of global crop species relying on pollination by bees and other insects, concern about the reduction in the bee population has led researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Sciences and Technology to make a drone that can cross-pollinate from plant to plant.
The tiny drone (4 cm wide and weighing 15 grams) has a pad on the underside covered in horsehair coated in a special sticky gel. When the drone (manually controlled) flies on to a flower, pollen grains stick lightly to the gel and the rub off on the next flower visited – just like a bee. In experiments, the drone was able to cross-pollinate Japanese lilies (Lilium japonicum) and the soft, flexible animal hairs did not damage the stamens or pistils when the drone landed on the flowers.
Eijiro Miyako says that his team is working now on developing autonomous drones with GPS, high-resolution cameras and artificial intelligence so that they can track their way independently between flowers and land on them correctly. He told New Scientist magazine: “It will be some time before all that is in place but we hope that this will help to counter the problem of bee decline. But importantly, bees and drones should be used together”.
Image credit: Eijiro Miyako – showing the underside of the drone with the hair pad.