Can artificial “bugs” replace dying bee populations?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

RoboBees diagram
The different parts of the RoboBee. Talk about buzzworthy!

Have you ever been stung by a bee before? If so, you might be one of the last people to get one of those nasty red bumps, because something has been killing the bee population. Several scientists believe climate change is responsible, but most of them aren’t sure what’s causing the rapid decline. They do know that the number of bees has been cut by 30% in America, with estimates going as high as 50% lost! In a couple of years, the next bee you see may be one of Harvard’s miniature robots, the RoboBee.

Why would these mad scientists be working on miniature robotic insects, you ask? The thing is, bees are responsible for more than making delicious honey and stinging the “bee”-jeezus out of innocent picnic-goers. When they gather pollen for their precious honey, the bees pollinate different crops in the process, like apples, broccoli, melons, and berries. Without the black-and-yellow buzzing soldiers, USA farmers could potentially lose roughly $14 billion worth of crops!

If the bee population truly is well on its way to extinction, our food supplies could vanish too, which is why the Harvard researchers spent about 10 years inventing the RoboBee. It’s half the size of a paper clip, weighs about 30 times less than a penny, and flaps its wings around 100 times per second, just like a real bee can. The RoboBees are designed to go from flower to flower and transfer pollen, which could potentially save our food supply!

Before the bees are ready to take flight, researchers are working on fitting a battery on their tiny bodies. Also, they’re coming up with a way to cram a tiny computer inside the artificial bugs, so the RoboBees can fly themselves using programmed intelligence. Once they’re totally ready, RoboBees will be “buzzy” at work saving our food supplies! The only question is, will real bees let the drones into their hives? I guess we’ll have to wait and bee… I mean see.

Images courtesy of Harvard RoboBees.