Tiny drones adorned in horsehair and coated with a special ion gel have been trying to pollinate lilies in a Japanese lab. The quadcopters costing $100 each are just 42mm wide and weigh as little as 14.8g.
The creator, a chemist from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), Nanomaterials Research Institute (NMRI), Eijiro Miyako said, For now, my robot is possibly just a proof of concept. However, it does make sense for the future. Were doing the best; were looking forward, while speaking to foreign media.
Ants were the first choice of test subjects, with 30 of them carrying the said gel droplet and were left in a jar filled with tulips.
After three days, we carefully observed their body by electron microscopy to count pollens. We [compared] the hybrid ants and wild ants without the gels - hybrid ants had 1,000 times more pollen than wild ants. The gel also has a camouflage effect, thanks to the photochromic chemical compounds in it, says Miyako. I'm sure that camouflaging properties of this gel would help our artificial pollinators to protect against attacks from enemies like clever birds and bigger insects.
To ease the process without any complications, Miyakos team turned to horsehair helping the gel adhere to drones and then to brush off on flowers. The diameter of horsehair was ideal for coating the gels and collecting pollen. More importantly, horsehair is a biodegradable, eco-friendly material, he says.
Indeed, it was very hard work to control the robotic pollinators to precisely hit the target sites. I believe that a form of AI, GPS and high-resolution cameras would be very useful for the development of automatic machines in the future. In particular, AI will help provide the intelligence in a robotic drone. They will [autonomously consider] something such as exploring the shortest path and the highest efficiency for pollination. That must be helpful and useful for farmers, right? explains Miyako.