When you hear ‘bees’ and ‘drone’ in the same sentence, you think of the low, continuous hum that the insects omit. What you don’t think is expensive gadget used to film smug family’s Jamaican getaway. Nonetheless, the scientific community’s concerns about the imminent demise of honeybees has instigated the development of drones – of the tangible persuasion – to carry out artificial pollination.
The development comes amidst ongoing concerns about the world’s bee population, and the ramifications if bees die out altogether. Extinction would have huge consequences for the global ecosystem: bee pollination is responsible, in varying capacities, for apples, cucumbers, cauliflower, carrots, celery, broccoli and onions. In turn, it is estimated that bees are responsible for approximately 1.4 billion jobs worldwide; they’re a critical component of human welfare. Pound for pound, they contribute more to the nation’s GDP than the royal family.
In a recent endeavor, scientists in Japan have come up with a backup plan should the world’s honeybee population collapse, in the form of mini hummingbird-sized drones. Protruding from the drone’s body are a cluster of horsehair paintbrush bristles coated in a sticky gel, which facilitates the pick-up and redistribution of pollen grains amongst flowers.
The researchers stressed that “The global pollination crisis is a critical issue for the natural environment and our lives. The need to develop an innovative pollination tool that does not require time and effort to achieve pollination with a high success rate is urgent.”
The drones signal a step forward, certainly, but they lack the honey-producing capacity of the bees themselves. Plus, there’s a long way to go before the drones can operate without human guidance, not to mention a huge financial barrier to overcome. Nonetheless, flawed though they may be, the drones are a necessary evil; it is estimated that about 9% of bees are classified as ‘threatened’, and bee colonies are in sharp decline.
This isn’t the first time that humans have intervened, laden with technology, in an attempt to save the bees; in 2015 Australian scientists installed micro tracking chips on bees in an endeavor to find out the causes of ‘colony collapse’, the phenomenon which depletes the honeybee population.
As unsettling as all this bee-interventionism may be – you may remember a similar scenario going horribly wrong in the final episode of Black Mirror – it’s a solution to a potentially devastating problem. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of ‘buzz’ (I’m sorry) surrounding the issue…