Dutch scientists say they can create swarms of bee-like drones to take over if the insects die out
Intensive modern farming methods and the unravelling consequences of global climate change are said to have put the future of the common bee under threat like never before.
But in Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands a group of scientists working on long-term solutions to some of the worlds thorniest problems have developed a solution that could have come straight from a sci-fi novel: robotic bees.
By reproducing some of the complex wing motion patterns and aerodynamics of fruit flies, in particular, researchers in the universitys newly opened Robohouse, a hub for Dutch expertise, believe they will be able to create swarms of bee-like drones to pollinate plants when the real-life insects have died away.
The wings of the robotic DelFly beat 17 times per second, to generate the lift needed to stay airborne and control its flight through small adjustments in their wing motion.
The researchers asked why a fly was so difficult to swat and looked to reproduce the insects evasive technique. The robo-bees can hover on the spot, fly in any direction, and even flip 360 degrees around pitch or roll axes. Because the robots wings are made of a lightweight film made of mylar, the material used in space blankets, it is safe for people to work around them.
The new drones, which can travel at up to 15mph, are also more efficient in their flight than those with helicopter-style blades, meaning their batteries can last longer. They can be fitted with spatial sensors so that they autonomously fly from plant to plant, avoiding each other and other obstacles as they go.
Previous attempts to perfect the technology in Harvard and elsewhere have produced useful models, but have proven to be too fragile or unable to navigate around each other.