Scientists to replace drones with bees

Unbeelievable scenes: Bees are being used to solve drones’ battery woes

Jake Stones
13 Dec 2018
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Researchers at the University of Washington have designed wireless sensors for bees, in an effort to solve the issue of poor battery life on drones.

Drone technology has come forward leaps and bounds in recent years, but researchers are still dismayed by drones’ limited battery life. Enter the bees, which are being used to help bolster their longevity.

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Currently, drones are able to help provide masses of data due to their maneuverability, and are being looked to for numerous tasks in society. However, even the best drones will only have around 30/45 minutes of fly time, which doesn’t help for mass data collection.

Unlike drones, bees can fly around for much longer durations of time, and are able to look after their energy levels themselves. What’s more, the energy reuptake in bees is a much more efficient process, with fats and sugars containing more energy for their weight than batteries.

The research team found that a healthy worker bee can carry a load of 105 milligrams, so they designed a platform which can be glued to the bee’s back, weighing just 102 milligrams. Measuring in at 6.1 by 6.4 millimeters, the platform boasts a a 70 milligram lithium ion battery. It’s then kitted out with an antenna, a microcontroller, and sensors which can analyse humidity, temperature and light.

Currently the research team wish to utilise the bees for their mobility and pollination patterns, gathering a plethora of data which can be utilised for smart farming. The information can be sent from the sensors on the bee’s back to multiple radio transmitters set up around the area of flight for the bee. So long as the bee is within 80 metres of the transmitters, the sensors can unload roughly 1,000 bits of data per second.

The bees will be able to inform scientists of optimal growing conditions for plants, tracking how often they visit to each different plant given the weather and environmental setting. The information gathered might also allow for the researchers to figure out what’s bringing about the rapid decline in the global bee population.

The potential to create a vast network of accurate and new information on the farming industry is vast, making the bees potential live contributors to the Internet of Things - an intricate network of information gathered from the real world.

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The research team has ambitions to develop the sensors to include a solar panel, removing the need for a battery altogether. Currently the battery is able to wirelessly charge when the bee returns to the hive. The team hope to add a camera to the sensor, further improving the data feedback which is possible from the bee’s activity.

It’s an exciting step, with boundless – and sinister – potential. Researchers are mulling over the prospect of eventually being able to read the bees’ brain waves, part of a larger endeavour to control their actions. Sounds pretty Black Mirror to us. Watch this space.

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