US retail giant Walmart has filed a patent for autonomous robotic bees that it hopes will be able to pollinate crops just like their real-life counterparts. The ‘robo-bee’ could provide a solution to the ongoing decline of bee populations. It’s among the latest developments in the ongoing battle between Walmart and Amazon over retail and, more recently, groceries. The bee drone technology, which was explored in season 3 of Black Mirror, could theoretically give Walmart an edge in food production over the long term.
The patent for the so-called ‘pollination drones’ was filed earlier in March as part of a series of six focusing on automated farming. The ‘robobees’ or ‘pollination drones’ would, according to the patent, use a “pollen applicator configured to collect pollen from a flower of a first crop” and then, using sensors and cameras, find their way to other flowers to apply said pollen onto them.
Though it’s not immediately clear what the company’s plans for the robotic swarm patent are, some analysts have suggested that the retail giant is hoping to gain a stronger foothold in agriculture and gain more control over its supply chain.
Other organizations have already developed or drafted ideas for similar robot bee technologies, including a team at Harvard University, a researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and a student at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. No robot bee technology is currently being used on a large scale, however.
Perhaps robotic swarms of bees, like the one produced by Harvard University researchers in 2013, offer a feasible solution for mankind in a world in which real bees are being placed on the endangered species list.
Honeybee populations are diminishing at very rapid pace, and we can no longer take pollination for granted. These small creatures are the backbone of agriculture and the food that we eat. While scientists work to better understand declining pollinator populations, and hopefully come up with solutions, these Walmart farming drones could keep agriculture, and fresh produce, alive.