Humans are a creative lot. Having seen many articles and references to the declining bee population and the phenomenon of bee colonies becoming sick and dying off, it suddenly occurred to me: if the bees for some reason are no longer pollinating our crops, can we create tiny flying microbots to do the job in their stead?
Technologies for making smaller and more sophisticated machines continue to improve. Now that you can buy a small helicopter with a video camera in it and fly it around your home, and inventors are creating tiny dragon flies that actually fly, can we be far from being able to make mechanical bees to pollinate our crops? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. In the face of large scale famine, I think we could do this today.
A market for robotic bees exists today. I am sure there are commercial greenhouses and plant conservatories that would like to have a non-stinging, controllable fleet of tiny robo-bees to pollinate their plants year-round. Bee colonies travel the country in hives stacked on flatbed trucks during the growing season, hiring their services out to farmers. Other insects farmers need aren’t always the best employees, though. They sometimes don’t show up on time, and they can get sick or die or move away.
Farmers and fruit growers already buy insects. Farmers already buy insects in quantity, but the darned things don’t always behave. I can’t help but recall an NPR news item of a couple of years ago in which they interviewed an Ohio fruit grower who had bought feed sacks full of lady bugs and released them in his orchards, expecting that they would kill off aphids and other pests (which they generally find very tasty, I’m told). The unfortunate outcome was that, later the same afternoon, the millions of ladybugs lifted off en masse and departed for nearby Indiana. In the fall I wondered if a lot of them hadn’t made it all the way to my town in Michigan, where they kept appearing in my house well into the dead of winter. That’s not the kind of outcome the farmer expected, I’m pretty sure.
Robo-bees might be just the thing. So, if bees are declining in number, and we have the capability to make cyber-bees, why don’t we? At least, someone should be working on this just to be sure we don’t get caught in a big bee shortage someday. It might just be the key to avoiding a major famine in the years ahead.
As always, I welcome your comments. – Tim