Tiny Drones With Sticky Feet Pollinate Flowers Now
Is there anything those clever drones can't do? Now, they can pollinate flowers, thanks to sticky feet like insects have.
(Flying drone picks up pollen from friendly flower)
The undersides of these artificial pollinators are coated with horse hairs and an ionic gel just sticky enough to pick up pollen from one flower and deposit it onto another. Far from replacing bees, the drones' designers are hopeful that their invention could someday help carry the burden that modern agricultural demand has put on colonies and in turn benefit farmers. The work appears February 9 in the journal Chem.
The gel used for the artificial pollinators was the result of an experiment gone wrong. In 2007, senior author Eijiro Miyako, a chemist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) Nanomaterial Research Institute, was working to make liquids that could be used as electrical conductors. One of his attempts generated a gel as sticky as hair wax, which he considered a failure. After a decade of sitting in a storage cabinet in an uncapped bottle, it was rediscovered unchanged during a lab cleanup. Inspired by concerns over honeybees and news reports on robotic insects, Miyako began to explore, by using houseflies and ants, whether the gel could work to pick up pollen.
"This project is the result of serendipity," says Miyako, who worked with postdoctoral fellow and first author Svetlana Chechetka. "We were surprised that after 8 years, the ionic gel didn't degrade and was still so viscous. Conventional gels are mainly made of water and can't be used for a long time, so we decided to use this material for research."
This sounds like a job for the amazing little "scarab" drone, the robot protagonist in Raymond Z. Gallun's astounding 1936 story The Scarab:
The Scarab rubbed its hind legs together, as flies will do when at rest. Then, apparently satisfied that it was in condition, it unfolded the coleoptera-like plates over its wings. With a buzz that any uninformed person would have mistaken for that of a beetle, it started out on its journey...
(Read more about the scarab robot flying insect)