Gallery: Scientists develop flying “robo-bees” to pollinate flowers as ...


Honey bee populations around the world are in decline due to causes ranging from “super mites” to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and even cell phones—and if these insects disappear completely, the entire planet’s ecosystems would be in peril. The issue has become so dire that now a team of Harvard and Northeastern University scientists are working on a swarm of miniature Robobee robots that could pollinate flowers and do the job of real bees, if required.

Speaking to Scientific American, the team leaders said: “In 2009 the three of us began to seriously consider what it would take to create a robotic bee colony. We wondered if mechanical bees could replicate not just an individual’s behavior but the unique behavior that emerges out of interactions among thousands of bees. We have now created the first RoboBees—flying bee-size robots—and are working on methods to make thousands of them cooperate like a real hive.”

The biomimicking scheme, also known as the Micro Air Vehicles Project, aims to “push advances in miniature robotics and the design of compact high-energy power sources; spur innovations in ultra-low-power computing and electronic “smart” sensors; and refine coordination algorithms to manage multiple, independent machines”.

Okay, but what does that mean in layman’s terms? Well, by coordinating large numbers of small, agile robots to mimic the physical and behavioral robustness of insect groups, the program could direct a swarm of robots to accomplish tasks faster more reliably, and more efficiently than a single unit.

Not only could they be used to pollinate flowers (in theory), but they could also be used for search and rescue, hazardous environment exploration (such as a nuclear disaster sites), high-resolution weather and climate mapping and traffic monitoring. Here’s hoping we never need them for the job that their real-life counterparts provide.

+ Robobees

Via Scientific America


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  1. MACH5 May 21, 2014 at 10:41 am

    Are you all crazy! making a robot bee and having the ability to kill other living insects as a potential threat! This is just the most unintelligent thing I have seen, making a robot bees to take over the real bees. The New World Order is at hand! You start with bees then move up and then you got Terminator, running around killing humans…Come on….

  2. Cindy Bevington Olmstead July 16, 2013 at 8:58 am

    So once you have the robobees perfected, how are you going to keep Roundup from simply killing off the flowers?

  3. Jennifer Diaz July 16, 2013 at 1:21 am

    This is so ridiculous…just what the world needs. How ’bout banning GMOs and Neonicotinoids and saving what bees are left. God created them for a reason!

  4. Lauren Frisk July 15, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Typically I have thoroughly enjoyed the posts from Inhabitat that come up in my Newsfeed, but this one has me fuming. What particularly angers me is the way the article was framed as this cool new development, without any forethought given to the potential implications of this technology. Got to love the logic here- Oh woopsie, we really screwed ourselves this time. Let’s just build some robots to fix it. Even Kurt Vonnegut couldn’t make this shit up!

    UnBEElievable. I honestly thought this was a satire piece at first. Extremely alarming on multiple fronts. First, unbelievable that the human race has come to the point that driving species into extinction is leading us to have to make up for our wrongs by creating robotic versions of them. Second, apparently these robot bees might potentially be made capable of “traffic monitoring.” Obviously if they can perform search and rescue and monitor traffic THEY CAN MONITOR YOU. So basically, in the future, swarms of insects that once helped contribute to the vitality of our planet will become robots that invade our homes and spy on us. Brilliant. The future is scarier than 1984. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if funding for this project is being sponsored by Monsanto.

    I guess we couldn’t dream of addressing the real issues underlying the decline of the pollinators such as the agribusiness and GMOs. I know that our planet has the power to heal itself but if we don’t give it the chance to do so we are all in very big trouble.

  5. ausearth July 14, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    This is not to pollinate flowers, It is to monitor you, a device law and army will be bringing into our houses very soon, wake up, grow food.

  6. giorgio789 July 12, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    This is sickening – NO, not the brilliant micro-robotic work that goes on above, but the fact that they’re doing this without considering the fundamental issues here – which are:
    1. Colony collapse disorder is the direct result of heavy-duty intensive chemical (i.e. conventional) agriculture all around the country, and has been directly connected to use of neo-nicotinoid pesticides developed by companies like Bayer and Syngenta
    2. Its obvious that as far as this genius team has come, I’m sure they clearly understand that what God has created is so amazingly complex, including insects like bees, especially when they’re talking about insect colony interactions, it will be many more years until they’re even close to simulating the real swarm of honey bees

    While this is great to observe, what you should really report about is the dire tragedy of bees disappearing from our planet at incredible numbers, which no artificial swarms will EVER REPLACE any time soon, if ever. BY FAR what you should bring glaring attention to is what big chemical and biotech industries are doing to our agriculture, i.e. decimating it as we know it, with introduction of GMOs for the past 20 years. The result of their genetic engineering and use of poisonous herbicides and insecticides is now clear and has been scientifically demonstrated to wreak havoc on the environment, create super bugs and super weeds, poison people, poison farm animals, contaminate plants surrounding GMO crops, kill off pollinators, put small farmers out of business, and thoroughly corrupt our government from within. Yes its disturbing, and should be a MAJOR topic of discussion on your site. Thank you for your time.

  7. Terri Scott March 15, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA! Birds eat bees too, bees are important to the environment in more ways than pollination & what will happen to an animal that eats this thing! They NEED to STOP spraying the toxic cocktail in the chemtrails & pestisides on the plants. That is what is killing the bees & they CAN stop it!

  8. Eleanor Russell March 14, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    What a shame that anyone should ever feel this is necessary, but if we can’t revolutionise our ways of behaving in the world, they might well be. Rly good film about bees that won lots of awards last year – ‘more than honey’.

  9. keelan March 14, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    I, for one, am looking forward to tasting their electric honey. so plastic-y, with a metallic aftertaste. good with GMO tea.

  10. Sallie Trout March 14, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Why are all the people responding, castigating this brilliant innovative work? It was clearly not intended to be the solution to remedying the current decline in the bee population. It is fascinating research which could lead to many other creative and useful problem solving applications.

  11. N.E. March 13, 2013 at 2:48 am

    Why isn’t the REAL cause of bee decline mentioned? Oh – yes – because that would make Monsato angry… it\’s GMO\’s and pesticides. Environmental pollutants. And what happens when BIRDS eat these beebots? What then? Make some RoboBirds to replace them too? This will introduce MORE damage to our ecosystem than any solution it might claim to make. Stop this madness.

  12. EcoHustler March 12, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    This is not okay. We have to limit human activity so that the rest of the biosphere can flourish not replace it with machines. Wake up humans – we need nature to live.

  13. jessinamercy March 12, 2013 at 7:23 am

    It is impossible for these robobees to ever be as sophisticated as real bees. I completely agree with Violeta.

  14. CardiffJeff March 12, 2013 at 6:47 am

    Just wait for Monsanto to hi-jack this technology and programme it so that the Robobees only pollinate their own patented seeds!

  15. Jason Fuerstenberg March 12, 2013 at 1:21 am

    It would be interesting if robots could hunt harmful insects so we could reduce our use of pesticides and GMOs. It would require some smarts so as not to hunt the beneficial insects.

    I\\\’m sure I\\\’m not the first person with this idea though. Somebody must be working on it.

  16. TACHITO March 11, 2013 at 9:25 pm


  17. Violeta Dima March 11, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    This is so illogical, impractical, immoral… so the bees go missing because of the phones and spraying, then the humans go missing, will a robohuman be the scientific report?

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