Agriculture This Week - The buzz on robot bees

By pure happenstance a post came across my social media feed last week regarding mechanical bees.

The thought of tiny robots the size of a bee immediately had my imagination turning, although I was also a tad skeptical as the Internet seems to be devolving into a place of more and more misinformation and fake news.

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But a little research and there is indeed significant efforts being made around the world to create robotic bees which in theory will at least be able to step in and carry out the critical job of pollination of plants should existing bee populations actually crash to dangerous lows.

This is one of those stories you can look at as amazingly positive, or with the science fiction fan in me can easily conjure some rather dark scenarios out of such developments.

On the positive side the work to date on these miniature creations is simply amazing. The fields of electronics, robotics and computer science are taking massive strides when you think about what sort of technology needs to come together to create a robotic bee capable of finding flowers, collecting pollen and transferring that to another flower.

It is also good to know that science is preparing ahead in terms of what we may need to do should bee populations truly decline too far.

There has been significant press in recent years about the potential impact of certain insecticides on bee populations as well as Colony collapse disorder where the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen.

While not necessarily at the point of crisis, such issues are certainly reason for concern.

Plants don’t produce without pollination and that process is almost solely the role of bees. If the bees go food production would be in crisis.

While the best case scenario is to protect natural bees, having a back-up plan for such a critical function as pollination is only prudent.

But, the idea of robotic bees does raise a few valid questions that have darker connotations.

What happens to birds that see the little robotic bees as food, swoop in and swallow? The first generation of these bees may be larger than the average honey bee, but advancements will no doubt mean ever smaller versions.

If these bees are able to autonomously seek out flowers and do the work of bees it is also startlingly easy to think of more nefarious programming for military, police and criminal activities.

And, perhaps most importantly, who will own the patents on a technology which could become critical to food production? Are such patents something we are comfortable having in the hands of profit-driven corporations? Or, would it be any better if they were in the hands of a single government?

Clearly as such technology is being developed there needs to be some dialogue to ensure safety, security and access once the tiny robots are ready to go to work.

Calvin Daniels is Editor with Yorkton This Week.

© Copyright 2018 Yorkton This Week

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