Around the world, populations of pollinators are on the decline. Bees are succumbing to climate change, pesticides, threats to their habitats, and predators. U.S. beekeepers have been losing 30% of their bees each year. The total bee population in Japan has declined by 40%. Farmers worry that their crops won’t be pollinated and food shortages will be the result.
Maybe not. Robot pollinators might solve the problem.
Can robots pollinate plants?
Robots can’t even sort fruit in factories.Can they pollinate fruit trees?
A Japanese company is heading to market with a phone-controlled robot that sprays pollen solution on apple trees. Apple growers have already been relying on human workers to help pollinate their trees, but the robot saves resources. Workers no longer need to climb ladders and painstakingly pollinate the trees by hand. This is particularly impractical with Japan’s aging population. The average age of Japanese farmers is 60.
Meanwhile, Washington State University just got a three-year, million dollar grant from the USDA to develop its own pollinator robots. Other researchers have tried drones, and Walmart been got a patent in 2018 for their robo-pollinator.
Concerns about the environmental effects of these ideas have slowed adoption. Also, like so many robotic innovations, they don’t actually work in real life.
In order to make like a bee, the robots would have to have a higher level of mobility and precision than the current examples have. They would have to be able to identify flowers and pollen, and to harvest the pollen without damaging the flowers.
The Japanese solution, which uses a spray rather than a bee-like automaton, sidesteps these issues. If it works, that could make a difference.
Japanese researchers have also worked with robo-bees. So far, the tiny remote-controlled robots may have promise, but they are wildly impractical. Millions would be needed just to pollinate California’s almond crop.
At the moment, using robots to pollinate corpsman not be a practical plan. Using automation to do repetitive jobs that require power and precision? That’s an obvious win-win.
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