Can you believe, BEEbots?

The newest solution to bee decline and colony collapse is possibly a robotic bee. Well, this one has got me amused. I certainly can appreciate the science though.

It really is a complex thing they are doing in creating a mechanical robotic insect. A seriously costly proposition, it is to the tune of ten million dollars in research funding to one university alone.

Is it not more sensible to sink the dollars into fixing the problems with the real bees first? Can they not keep reproducing new bees as well? What will automated bees do that living breathing bees can’t? I am not trying to be flippant either.

Image from, May I Introduce, Dr. Bee. This post talks about unusual jobs that bees have been employed to service mankind. It really is a unique look at bees.

I look at bees as important to life as air, food and water. Heck, they do an awful lot in helping to ensure that we have food.

We NEED them in this capacity, and although this development is a miracle of science, it is not quite up to being the miracle of nature.

Well, I can see this both as fiction futuristic and going much further in application for practical reality. I am not so naive as to see many other applications for the robot bee that will spill into unrelated fields, but to replace the actual bee? To even anticipate a day without actual bees?

Scientists are programming real bee senses into the robot bees such as their sense of sight and smell. They are trying to upload behaviors that would be useful from collective behavior and colony mentality. It seems that they would much need the robobees to work in a team-like fashion to accomplish any number of services.

The beebots are a reality in 2015 they say, but to what ends is the question. Before that time, should we not be asking how the robot bees themselves might be used once they have been bestowed with control mechanisms and artificial intelligence needed to fly and operate of their own accord?

Would this robot bee not have military applications too? Most likely. Robobees could be employed in surveillance of all kinds, just as their chitin covered counterparts have been doing since ancient times. Whether being catapulted into an enemies’ fort, or sniffing out weapons in airports, the bees have been used by humans for a very long time.

The beebots could just be out pollinating flowers as well. Bees will likely perform the same basic tasks as real bees, like identifying flowers and collecting pollen, but, all independently of additional human interaction, control and care in the traditional sense anyway.

It is a pretty remarkable breakthrough in robotics and artificial intelligence, no question. Or is there questions?

Take a look at the videos…

Since the scientists have so many biological obstacles to overcome to translate their work into the robotic bee, like fashioning the physical bee itself, developing the colony and collective behaviors, it should be a long while before they are buzzing in backyards. So many hurdles to address I am sure, but so many questions too.

Another video that is worth a look.

I would probably be intrigued enough to work on this project, but see so many ethical reasons not to as it concerns the actual living, buzzing bee. Science seems to ignore the bigger questions sometimes.

It is not the religious aspect of playing God. We already do that with all the things we create that destroy. It is more from the aspect of not saving what we have and making that the number one priority.

We are most likely in a time in our evolution where we can’t design and legislate our way out of the environmental problems we are now facing. It becomes almost sorry to see scientists headed in this direction with that directive. Time and efforts should be concentrated on repairing, not primarily creating anew.

Sure this will be quite a scientific and engineering feat, but is it not obvious at least one reason why this is being done? Rather than change the practices that are affecting the bees, like the use of pesticides and herbicides, this is being touted as a viable solution. Break through in robotics, seems off point.

I know there is much more to the science than adding robobees to the natural population. I know they are not going to replace bees. The focus seems misdirected if the objective is to make pollinating bees when real bees should be the main consideration. Do scientists know something that we the public are yet unaware?

I just don’t want to go out in my garden in the next ten years and see these things flapping from flower to flower. I want the real bees. I want science to fix what we broke.

You all know my love of animals. See the post Lions, Tigers and Bees, by Miss Apis Mellifera.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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39 Responses to Can you believe, BEEbots?

  1. Oh for Pete’s sake ..really too much. I want real bees not robots…I was thinking the exact same thing…fix the problem by changing our use of chemicals so the real bees can live. Time to take responsibility for our behavior and change our behavior.

    • Expecting people to change policies and practice is an uphill battle when the immediate benefit to people is in question. One commenter below said it all. “Why are we not spending money on poor countries.” After all, are they not the ones that use harmful chemicals to the environment that are banned here? Are they the ones that have the most difficulty growing crops? I really don’t know, just asking. No politics meant in my response.

  2. i like that scenic picture at the end and love your fine tuned closeups

  3. A.M.B. says:

    The idea of a beebot is very interesting. As usual, I love the pictures. This is one the most beautiful blogs around.

    • I find the research and development interesting too. I could see myself working on the design, but then again, it would never stop bugging me that it seems like a huge substitute for something else.

  4. sweetbay103 says:

    I agree with Donna and think research into robotic bees is ridiculous!

    • The research has far reaching use in other fields. It should be done. My only concern was why make a bee? If they want bee senses, don’t they already have that technology? There is all kinds of mechanical sniffers and plenty of amazing lenses (micro, macro and compound) created already. The reason science uses real dogs and bees as sniffers is I doubt they have come close to reproducing this precision and expertise of those creatures. My other post has some of this discussed. You need your link here for others to visit your blog.

  5. Andrea says:

    This robot bee thing is scary! I wonder if there really is not a consciousness trying to change everything, or if it is really a part of the Secret Government, and if there really is a truth about it. …That last bee and flower foto is enticing for me the most!

  6. This seems so wrong headed. I cannot believe that a mechanical device, no matter how sophisticated, will fill the ecological niches filled by bees. The focus should be on bringing back the live bee population. This reminds me of the people whose answer to the problems of fossil fuels is to develop supplies in areas that are more and more risky and damaging to the environment as a whole – instead of finding replacements. Why are we so foolish?

    • I don’t believe science will ever approach nature. I feel if it ever gets that close, we will ‘create’ ourselves into oblivion. But people may have had that thought a hundred years ago too, because technology today was never even a dream then.

  7. Emily Heath says:

    Thanks Donna. My fear is that rather than provide areas of natural forage in-between monocrops, farmers will turn to using these robot bees because they will not have the nutritional needs of real bees or suffer from colony collapse.

  8. That is some crazy stuff! It is beyond my comprehension why so much money is spent on this type of research (even if it applied in other fields). There are so many other more pressing ways to spend tax payer monies (but I won’t get on my soap box here :O). It seems to be the mentality to spend money for a quick (yet costly) fix to a problem instead of actually finding the root of the cause and fixing that. I have yet to see where human design does it better than Mother Nature!

  9. I think it’s important to try to understand the big picture. Scientists aren’t one big group that is deciding to make robot bees instead of researching why the bee population is declining. Some scientists are indeed studying real bees. Other scientists work with robotics and one possible application of what they’re doing is to fill in the pollination gap that exists because bees are dying. It’s not either or.

    • Connie, I had to reply to your comment, not because it differed from my perspective, but because I do not believe it is an either or choice. The funding does not have to go in any one direction. If the funding was for pure science and what could develop from a study, sure maybe it is warranted. But this research on developing a ‘bee’ seems to have specific goals. There is not one big group working on this project either. Nvidia (a chip manufacturer) is working developing the GPU’s. Plus researchers are working in the UK on this ‘bee’ in addition to the Harvard scientists.

      The applications are already ported to the medical field and numerous other areas, with the technology, not the actual mechanical insect of which I was speaking. And yes, there is no doubt many scientists are working on the plight of the bees, but in my opinion, not making enough headway. My other post on Dr. Bee shows the many directions science is headed, but also, and again, is not saving bees, but USING bees.

      I had to read my post again to see if I missed the points you mentioned. I feel I covered them, but maybe not enough with specifics.

  10. Yes, science should fix what they broke. I just read a book where there were fly-bots, used for spying. It was a prototype of their ‘new discovery’. Think it was a Kay Scarpetta novel by Patricia Cornwell.
    Love the photos, especially the Caryopteris, lovely!

    • I think we all are responsible for what is broken, so we all have to be part of the soloution. There is not one of us that has not contributed to the environmental problems we face in one way or another. Advancement will always bring consequence. And it started long, long, long ago, way before we were born. I think it really has only been in our lifetime that we are readily seeing the ramifications of our actions, yet many still keep their head in the sand. And others just plain don’t care. We see it now because it is so obvious. Little creatures pay the price.

  11. waji2 says:

    science always use to do miracles. but the question is that why we are not thinking to spend this money on the poor countries…no doubt it is an amazing invention but my thinking will remain same 🙂

    • Plenty of money is spent, but unfortunately does not always get to where it is needed.

      • waji2 says:

        and thats the sad thing..we should plan how to spend money at right place..isn’t?

        • Sometimes this country does send money or supplies where it is needed in poor or developing countries, and bands of criminals intercept the supplies. Or corrupt government officials steal the monies and the poor people continue to suffer. I really have mixed feelings on our government’s help or interference in poor nations. Sorry for getting a bit political. I am very much not a political individual, just passionate on environmental and conservation affairs.

          I want lands preserved worldwide especially for environmental reasons. The animals need our help, not our continued raping of their habitats. Just my opinion. As an architect, I designed idealistic sustainable communities. It was all theoretical in nature, not really feasible in our current state of urban spread, but it was a project that humans should have considered long before there was 7,044,558,907 of us today at 8:53, Tuesday by the world clock. These communities were to occupy the smallest footprint for people and allow the maximum area for nature. They were based on extreme methods conservation, reuse and limited use of materials, and caring. We can only dream…

          • waji2 says:

            yeah u saying right…feeling same about my country…even condition is more worse in our country…poors are suffering day by day…
            sometimes i think we should do special for our environment…but when i look our suffered people…my thinking blow away..oh sorry for the sad discussion
            but the good news is that i am thinking the same as you think. n consider me a part of your goal 🙂

  12. b-a-g says:

    Reading your post reminded me of when I was a small child at school and we were asked to think of inventions in the future (this was before the time of mobile phones and personal computers). The teacher had a really far-out idea of a telephone in which you could actually see the person that you were speaking to.

  13. As one of those scientists studying *real* bees, I have to say “Hey!” We’re doing our best, right…it’s not a simple problem. Or if it is, the solutions are not simple because they require people drastically changing their lifestyles, which people are not wont to do.
    I think the future we face is not one devoid of bees, but one where generalist bees are abundant and rare species are lost. For example, your photograph of Anthidium manicatum above, which is an introduced bee. The wool carder bee likes humans and is unlikely to ever go extinct, as long as humans have gardens, which, as I’m sure you can attest, humans are likely to. Bees like that have not suffered from human conquest; rather, they have flourished. I can supply you with other, similar, examples.
    In any case, try not to worry too much about robobees…completely impossible logistics aside, they will never replace real bees, and besides if all of the real bees collapse (unlikely), we will have much bigger problems to worry about!!
    Your friendly neighborhood entomologist,

    • Oh, I believe scientists are doing their best, on I am sure, limited funding. That is why I mentioned that monies should be appropriated to careful study, especially the plight of real bees. As a Master Gardener, we are updated often on the the situation concerning bees, as it is often changing and redirected. So many ’causes’ have been postulated, and it seems that many play a part. Now it is directed back again to the pesticides as a major contributor. We get regular talks from Geri Hens of Hens Honey Bee Farm,”the only NYS producer of USDA Raw Organic NY Native Wildflower and Tree Varietal Honey”. You may have heard of her. She is pretty well known and is a local expert here.

      I would be interested in how some species of bees have flourished. I hope you post on that.

      I am not worried on robobees, even if they are reality in 2015. I would guess it would be very hard to coordinate all the science that must occur to produce a ‘sentient’ bee. I figured as a guess, maybe in ten years, they might be buzzing flapping. I agree on bee collapse. If it ever gets to that point, we really will be worrying about our own demise.

      • standingoutinmyfield says:

        Oh good, I’m glad you’re on our side! Hmm…that sounds like an excellent blog post idea… 😉 You always have the best tips!

  14. willowbatel says:

    I’m glad you came across this topic and decided to share! It’s certainly a bit of an ethical dilemma. As a beekeeper, I completely disapprove of replacing bees with robots, though I can see their uses in other areas of the world. A robot simply will never be as fascinating as an organic colony. And they certainly won’t make honey that tastes as good!

    • I had to laugh. They never mentioned their robots making honey. Now that would be truly amazing.

      • willowbatel says:

        Now that you mention it, I suppose they didn’t. Which makes the idea of robotic honeybees even more silly! Just bring in blue orchard mason bees and save the money and trouble of robots!

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  16. karen says:

    Robotic Bees, what next, i have to wonder what else they are up to, and i agree with you wholeheartedly, i shiver at thought of seeing one of these things flying around.

  17. Gobetween says:

    Impressive photos.

  18. Your shots are lovely, as always — such wonderful focus and detail. As for those robobees, the technology is certainly interesting. Hopefully as much effort is going into figuring out how to stop the colony collapse with the existing model.

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