Bees are vital to most of the world’s food crops but their numbers have been declining in recent decades, so researchers at The University of Manchester are working towards a future where they are replaced by robot bees.
According to Greenpeace, the global economic benefit of pollination amounts to some €265bn, but bee populations have been in decline due to factors such as diseases and parasites, climate change and wider industrial and agricultural practices.
However, researchers at the University of Manchester have begun work on mechanical bees that could pollinate crops and flowers.
“We’re aiming to create the world’s first robot bee that can fly unaided and unaccompanied,” said Dr Mostafa Nabawy, microsystems research theme leader at The University of Manchester’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering.
“Imagine if the current trend of a declining bee population continues, swarms of robot bees pollinating crops and flowers could become a reality. Whilst this may sound like something out of a transformers film this is our ultimate aim.”
In addition to robot bees, the researchers are also developing robot spiders that could be used in field such as engineering and manufacturing.
The robot spiders have been modelled on a specific species of jumping spider called Phidippus regius, which can jump up to six-times longer than its own body length from a standing start.
Having analysed how real spiders make such leaps, the team has now begun developing prototype robots that can mimic these biomechanical movements.
“For our robotic spiders research we are looking at a specific species of jumping spider called Phidippus regius. We have trained it to jump different distances and heights, recording the spider’s every movement in extreme detail through high resolution cameras which can be slowed down,” said Nabawy.
“We are now using this bio-mechanical data to model robots that can perform with the same abilities. With this extensive dataset we have already started developing prototype robots that can mimic these biomechanical movements and jump several centimetres.”
The researchers’ work on robot bees has been released days after it was revealed that hoverflies may be spreading infections that are deadly to bees.