Japanese scientists develop robotic pollinator

Japanese scientists develop robotic pollinator

A team of Japanese scientists has successfully turned a small remote-controlled drone into a honey bee-like pollinator by attaching horsehairs layered with a special, sticky gel to its underbelly.

Flowers looking to receive pollen from their male parts into another bloom’s female parts often require an envoy to carry pollen. Those third players, such as honey bees, are called as pollinators.

Bees and other natural pollinators are needed for reproduction of an estimated 90 per cent of flowering plants as well as one third of human food crops, but populations of bees have drastically tumbled over the past few decades, prompting researchers to consider other ways.

The drone pollinator developed by a team of Japanese scientists, led by Eijiro Miyako of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science & Technology in Japan, may help solve the problem created by decline in bee populations.

Speaking about other possible options, study authors wrote, “One pollination technique requires the physical transfer of pollen with an artist’s brush or cotton swab from male to female flowers. Unfortunately, this requires much time and effort. Another approach uses a spray machine … however machine pollination has a low pollination success rate.”

However, the drone pollinator may still take a long time to be ready for use in agricultural fields because a lot of work is yet to be done before it could become a reality.

The Japanese scientists described the robotic pollinator in the most recent edition of the journal Chem.

A report published by NewsWeek has questioned if robotic pollinators can replace bees, "Pollination is complex task and should not be underrated. It involves finding flowers and deciding if they are suitable and haven’t already been visited. The pollinator then needs to successfully handle the flower, picking pollen up and putting it down in another plant, while co-ordinating with its team and optimising its route between flowers. In all of these tasks, our existing pollinators excel, their skills honed through millions of years of evolution."

CS Monitor report on the project added, "As exciting as this success was for Miyako and the other researchers, it is only a first step. Scientists can build something capable of pollinating plants, but the team has yet to figure out how to apply the concept on the massive scale necessary to make it useful for farmers."