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Robotic Bees Are a Real Thing—and the Company Funding Them Might Surprise You

Inc. logo Inc. 5/13/2018 Bonnie Burton
a insect on the ground © Getty Images

The buzz about pollination drones is more important than ever, and companies like Walmart want in on the action.

When several types of bees and bumblebees made the endangered-species list thanks to declining bee populations it's easy to see why companies are looking towards robotics as a possible solution.

After all, bees supply more than just honey. Without busy bees pollinating plants, domestic crops such as various fruit and vegetables could be hit hard.

More than 75 percent of the world's food crops rely at least in part on pollination by insects and other animals.

Between $235 billion and $577 billion worth of annual global food production relies on direct contributions by pollinators, according to a 2016 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The European Union went so far as to recently ban all outdoor use of pesticides containing harmful neonicotinoids to protect bee populations overseas.

Now Walmart wants to get in on the act of giving bees a helping hand while investing in advanced robotics.

Walmart filed a patent in March for autonomous robot bees that can pollinate like their real insect counterparts. Tiny cameras on the robots -- also called pollination drones -- not only detect and spot the locations of the crops that need pollinating, but the sensitive sensors on the drones will assure that successful pollination occurs.

Five other patents were also filed that same month by Walmart for additional farming drones, including one drone that monitors the ongoing health of various crops and another that can hunt down plant pests, hopefully erasing the need for use of harmful pesticides that endanger bees in the first place.

Walmart is no stranger to utilizing advanced robots. This year, the large chain starting using using sophisticated scanner robots built by Bossa Nova Robotics to monitor store inventory.

Walmart may be one of the largest companies to currently invest in robotic bees like those in the patent, however researchers are hoping to offer more kinds of pollination drones for additional companies to fund.

Back in 2013, Harvard University researchers introduced autonomous flying microrobots called RoboBees that were the size of a penny and used two wafer-thin wings that flapped 120 times per second to fly.

More recently in 2017, a student studying at Georgia's Savannah College of Art and Design created Plan Bee -- a pollination drone that could be controlled by a smart device.

Hopefully more companies will follow suit in robotic bee investing, until then Walmart may be the front runner in looking towards the future when it comes to replacing dwindling bee populations with advanced technology instead of relying on environmental friendly legislation.

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