Pollinating drone bees can’t replace honey bees, ecologists calculate

Pollinating drone bees can’t replace honey bees, ecologists calculate

by  —  in SCIENCE

 

The successful demonstration of remote-controlled “drones-bees” by Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) has been making news since Tuesday. But the buzz surrounding the drone’s applications could be much hyped, according to at least two independent estimates by biologists.

Many popular news websites reported that the university’s drone-bees could successfully replace real bees in pollination if they go extinct, but this might be optimistic. First, it’s not economically feasible to mass produce the robot insects. Second, there’s a flaw in understanding the science of pollination.

The Netherlands is one of the largest exporters of food and agricultural products in the world. While bees continue to pollinate 80 per cent of edible crops grown there, their population is under constant threat from pesticides. Some experts warn that all 360 species of bees in the country are endangered.

Enter the drones developed by TU Delft researchers. The robot bees have a wingspan of 33 cm, weigh 29 grams, can flap their wings 17 times per second, and generate enough lift to stay airborne. They control their flight by making minor adjustments in the wing motion. The university’s press release states that these features allow the drone bees to hover on the spot, and to fly in any direction. But they are not quite the same as actual bees.

 

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