Researchers Turn Bumblebees Into Crop Monitoring Drones With Tiny Backpacks

Friday, 14 December 2018 - 1:27PM
Friday, 14 December 2018 - 1:27PM
Researchers Turn Bumblebees Into Crop Monitoring Drones With Tiny Backpacks
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YouTube/Paul G. Allen School
A group of engineers at the University of Washington have developed a way to innocent little bumblebees into a colony of farm workers with tiny tech backpacks, according to CNBC

Mechanical drones are fine, but current battery tech is just not at a place that would allow for flying them for extended periods of time. Less time flying means less productivity. LivingIoT is a newly developed wireless platform with sensors, trackers, and wireless communication all in a very small and lightweight package. Vikram Iyer, Rajalakshmi Nandakumar, Anran Wang, Sawyer B. Fuller, and Shyamnath Gollakota designed the platform so that it could be strapped to the back of a living insect (the bumblebee) and used to monitor things like temperature and humidity for up to seven hours at a time on a single charge. The platform doesn't give the researchers the ability to physically control the bees, but they were able to set up an antenna tracking system to keep track of their natural flight patterns.

"We decided to use bumblebees because they're large enough to carry a tiny battery that can power our system," Iyer explained. The entire sensor platform weighs 102 mg, or about the same as seven grams of rice, with the battery making up the bulk of that weight. As for the tracking system, the researchers used the antennas to send signals to receivers in the bee backpacks and triangulate their location, which they say is typically always within 100m of the hive because nature.

Beyond turning the bees into an army of unpaid workers, the researchers say that their sensors can help them learn more about the disappearing insects. "With the sensors, now we can understand bees' behavior in the wild," said Gollakota in a statement. "We can potentially understand why these bees are going extinct. Now we have a bird's-eye view of what the bee is feeling or sensing."

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