RoboBees. No, it’s not the latest sci-fi thriller set to terrify American audiences this summer. In fact, it may just be our salvation. Researchers at Harvard are developing bee-sized flying robots that they hope will be able to replace bees as pollinators of many American crops in the near future. Flapping their wings 120 times per second, the incredibly lightweight machines utilize ingenious small-scale robotics to stay aloft, and each one weighs less than a gram (that’s about half the weight of a dime).
Honeybees are responsible for pollinating nearly one-third of the food we eat, and are estimated to contribute more than $15 billion in value to American agriculture every year. But Colony Collapse Disorder has led to drastic reduction in pollinator populations, to the point where last June the White House appointed a special task force to come up with a strategy to defend against this mysterious threat. The Harvard RoboBees solution is remarkable and necessary, but it begs the question: how much of nature can be replaced by man-made technology?