RoboBees and Colony Collapse Disorder

RoboBees are micro-robots designed by Harvard University researchers that push the limits of material science, fluid mechanics and computer science. They are tiny robots that are as big as honeybees and weigh less than 1 gram. They have wings similar to those of bees and can fly. The RoboBee made its first controlled flight about a year ago and has been under development so it can fly without being controlled.

Honeybees on the other hand are just bees popular for honey. However, they are also responsible for crop pollination. They play an important part in production of the food consumed by humans. Honeybees pollinate a third of the crops, which equates to $200 Billion worth of global crops and $15 Billion in the US. While they are a vital part of the food chain, they are at a threat. Honeybees have been going missing since the last few decades and this issue has been getting a lot attention since 2005 - 2006. One of the possible reasons for this occurrence seems to be pesticides. While pesticides protect crops from pests, they are causing adverse effects on honeybees and are a factor for Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD.

Honeybees go missing after summer and never return back to their colony. A possible reason is that they have memory loss because of the pesticides and cannot locate their colonies. Recent research exposed a set of bees to pesticides and kept certain bees away from pesticides. While both set of bees stayed around for summer, the former left during winter and never came back. CCD is responsible for the loss of 60% of the bee population. While this remains a concern, RoboBees seem to be getting ready for the rescue mission. They are expected to be getting ready to take the place of honeybees and start pollinating crops. While this is not something that would be ready immediately, they are certainly headed in the direction. When the RoboBees can coordinate with each other and fly without being controlled, they can be programmed for crop pollination and can replace honeybees.

Micro-robots have been developed since the last few years for defense purposes and DARPA has been investing in Micro air vehicles (MAVs) that can be used in the battle-field and for surveillance purposes. BAE Systems has developed similar projects involving micro robots for defense and surveillance and has been making significant progress in dealing with challenges with micro robots. While crop pollination might not have been the initial goal of micro-robotics projects, it could certainly be an area of development in the future.