Are Pollinating Drones Replacing Bees?

Bubble on a flower. Image from iScience

We all know that the population of bees is decreasing. Ever since the 1990s, bee colonies’ population has declined by around 70%. In response, scientists began developing other ways to pollinate crops: drones.

In 2017, Eijiro Miyako and other Japanese researchers used a drone to simulate pollination. It was a tiny 4 by 4 centimeter drone. To copy the bee’s fuzz, they attached animal hair covered with a gel that’s sticky onto the bottom of the drone. When flown, it was able to successfully collect the pollen and then release the pollen onto another flower. It pollinated perfectly. But it had a problem: its propellers harmed the plant.

Miyako began working on other alternatives. He and a colleague of his recently figured that they could add pollen grains into a soap film, which can form bubbles. They squirted bubble guns with the pollen at pear flowers. The pollination system worked and the pears were just as good as if a bee pollinated them. Attaching the sprayer to a drone and pollinating the flowers that way allowed good accuracy.

Some scientists and other people disagree with the making of these pollinating drones and robots. They say that these bee-emulating drones are distracting us from something more important: actually saving bees, whose populations are drastically declining.

Thank you for reading this article.

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