In the past few years, there’s been growing concern over Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a bizarre phenomenon that’s resulting in the abrupt disappearance of worker bees throughout the world. Although there are several theories that have addressed the origins of this syndrome, scientists have yet to determine the CCD’s absolute cause. For now, theories range from pesticide toxicity, contagious diseases, and the Varroa destructor mite, which carries two devastating bee viruses (the deformed wing virus and the acute bee paralysis virus). Some have even suggested that CCD is caused by stress brought on by several environmental factors.
With all the media hype surrounding colony collapse, bees are by no means on the verge of extinction. In fact, this isn’t even the first time they’ve been forced to recover from similar afflictions that have occurred in the past. Still, the threat remains, and in case the world’s bee population gets wiped out, scientists are working on discovering alternative ways to assist in plant pollination.
One possible solution lies in a recently funded grant awarded to Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Science by the National Science Foundation. Their Robobees project proposes the development of “coordinated agile robotic insects” that could be used first and foremost for the autonomous pollination of crops. Other potential uses for these tiny two-winged “bees” are endless, such as search and rescue, exploration of hazardous environments, high resolution climate mapping, traffic monitoring, and military surveillance (naturally).
The idea of robotic bees; however, is not a new one as scientists have long considered this a potential alternative to living bees. And now, with the National Science Foundation’s funding, the Harvard University School of Engineering is one step closer to making this a reality.
Of course, some questions immediately come to mind when considering the impact of this technology:
- Will they also be used and designed as a delivery system for insecticides, hormones, and plant sterols?
- What kind of defense mechanism will these bees have?
- Could they potentially attack other insects and permanently alter ecosystems?
- Could they hinder the natural return of real bees?
The potential for this project is vast and there must be caution taken to prevent undue consequences.