The Rise of the RoboBees

Engineers have created RoboBees that could pollinate crops and ultimately save disaster victims.

Einstein famously said that man would only have four years left to live if the bees disappeared.


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Populations of bees, butterflies and other agricultural pollinators have been declining at alarming rates in recent years, putting global food supplies at risk.

Inspired by nature, engineers at the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory in collaboration with Northeastern University have created RoboBees, miniature flying robots that can lift off, hover and perch to save energy.

They can also swim and fly through wind and dust. The smallest model can flap its wings 120 times per second and weighs just 84 milligrams – less than a real bee.

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The bee population has been declining at an alarming rate in recent years. 

Although artificial pollination was one of the original ideas behind modelling tiny robots on bees and their ability to communicate with each other and sense their surroundings, these devices could have other uses.

“The RoboBees can eventually be used for search and rescue, for example in areas where larger robots won’t fit,” says Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory PhD candidate Elizabeth Helbling.

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“They would also return with the information faster, as you wouldn’t have to wait for one robot to come back, but instead have a whole swarm of them covering a forest or similar.”

Eventually the engineers want to move RoboBees out of the lab environment into the real world, but it could take another five to 10 years before they are able to fly and swarm on their own.goldbrown2

This article first appeared on World Economic Forum and was republished with permission.


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Jenny Soffel is the Website Editor for World Economic Forum.

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