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These are the tiny drones that could save us if bees go extinct

Published Feb 10th, 2017 4:48PM EST
are bees endangered
Image: Dr. Eijiro Miyako

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As has been well documented in recent years, the population of many species of bees are in serious peril. The Trump administration is dragging its feet in adding some of the hardest-hit bees on the endangered species list, but scientists in Japan are already preparing for the absolute worst: a future without bees. Imagining a world in which the vital bees are mostly or entirely wiped out, researchers from Tokyo’s National Institute of Advanced Science and Technology have turned tiny drones into artificial pollinators.

The pint-sized drones are equipped with a special gel on their underside which, as Daily Mail notes, was created completely by accident in a lab experiment. One of the researchers working on that project, Dr. Eijiro Miyako, thought the gel might have an alternate use, and began testing it as a vehicle for pollination.

It turns out the gel worked quite well to pick up and transfer pollen, but that didn’t solve the problem of actually getting moving it between plants. For that, Miyako sourced small drones, each of which retail for about $100 a piece, and applied the gel to their undersides. The research team then flew the drones between plants and was able to successfully pollinate them remotely.

In a future where bees are truly pushed the brink of existence, small drones like Miyako’s could be automated to carry out the duties that the insects one did. Of course, a scenario in which bee populations are restored to desirable levels would be ideal, so let’s not mark this whole saga as a solved problem just yet.

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