Robobees – Robotic Pollinators of the Future


robobeesScientific American recently published an article on the emerging technology of Robobees. Researchers at Harvard have been working on creating flying robots to perform the tasks of a colony of bees.

Beyond pollination, there are many other possible applications for these robobees including:

  • search and rescue (e.g., in the aftermath of a natural disaster);
  • hazardous environment exploration;
  • military surveillance;
  • high resolution weather and climate mapping;
  • traffic monitoring;
  • space exploration

At nearly the size of an actual honey bee, these robobees are made of carbon fibers and carry their own power supply and electronics. The wings are flapped by using voltage to control a piezoelectric element that connects to the wings. Currently, the team is working on refining the battery to allow for extended flights. Right now, they are using wires to connect to a traditional battery for testing.

But perhaps the most amazing aspect of the robobees is the goal to have a colony of robobees that can communicate with each other. The goal is to have robobees disperse, find where flowers are blooming, and communicate with the rest of the hive. They are not quite there yet as there are many hurdles to overcome.

One of the biggest hurdles is to develop a low power method to allow communication. Current wifi technology is power-hungry and has limited range. GPS and other technologies are also power intensive. If battery weight and power were not an issue, then any type of wireless communication might work but battery weight is a limiting factor.

The researchers describe the battery problem as a catch-22: The heavier the battery, the more juice is needed for flight, the more battery power is needed, and so on. Nonetheless, advances in technology should yield a solution within the next several years. Perhaps it will be a hybrid battery solution that allows for solar charging.

Here is what the Harvard website says about the robobees:

From flies to fish to lobsters, small insects and animals have long been ideal models for roboticists and computer scientists. Bees, for example, possess unmatched elegance in flight, zipping from flower to flower with ease and hovering stably with heavy payloads.


By leveraging existing breakthroughs from Professor Wood’s Microrobotics Lab, which conducted the first successful flight of a life-sized robotic fly in 2007, the team will explore ways to emulate such aerobatic feats in their proposed devices. In addition, achieving autonomous flight will require compact high-energy power sources and associated electronics, integrated seamlessly into the ‘body’ of the machine.


One of the most complicated areas of exploration the scientists will undertake will be the creation of a suite of artificial “smart” sensors, akin to a bee’s eyes and antennae. Professor Wei explains that the ultimate aim is to design dynamic hardware and software that serves as the device’s ‘brain,’ controlling and monitoring flight, sensing objects such as fellow devices and other objects, and coordinating simple decision-making.


Finally, to mimic the sophisticated behavior of a real colony of insects will involve the development of sophisticated coordination algorithms, communications methods (i.e., the ability for individual machines to ‘talk’ to one another and the hive), and global-to-local programming tools to simulate the ways groups of real bees rely upon one another to scout, forage, and plan.

Click here to visit the Harvard website

Additional Resources:

The article on robobees from Scientific American

Watch video of a robobee taking off

More images of robobees



Thanks for all the Nucleotides

Your DNA is now pwned!

A study from the scientific journal, Genome Medicine, evaluated the current patents on genomes and came to a surprising conclusion. Nearly all of the human genome has been patented!

Humans don’t “own” their own genes, the cellular chemicals that define who they are and what diseases they might be at risk for. Through more than 40,000 patents on DNA molecules, companies have essentially claimed the entire human genome for profit, report two researchers who analyzed the patents on human DNA. Their study, published March 25 in the journal Genome Medicine, raises an alarm about the loss of individual “genomic liberty.”

In their new analysis, the research team examined two types of patented DNA sequences: long and short fragments. They discovered that 41 percent of the human genome is covered by longer DNA patents that often cover whole genes. They also found that, because many genes share similar sequences within their genetic structure, if all of the “short sequence” patents were allowed in aggregate, they could account for 100 percent of the genome.

Furthermore, the study’s lead author, Dr. Christopher E. Mason of Weill Cornell Medical College, and the study’s co-author, Dr. Jeffrey Rosenfeld, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey and a member of the High Performance and Research Computing Group, found that short sequences from patents also cover virtually the entire genome — even outside of genes.

“If these patents are enforced, our genomic liberty is lost,” says Dr. Mason, an assistant professor of physiology and biophysics and computational genomics in computational biomedicine at the Institute for Computational Biomedicine at Weill Cornell. “Just as we enter the era of personalized medicine, we are ironically living in the most restrictive age of genomics. You have to ask, how is it possible that my doctor cannot look at my DNA without being concerned about patent infringement?”

Source: Cornell Medical College

The implications of these findings are outstanding. How will this affect patient care in the future? Should we be ahead of the curve on this legislatively? What does this mean, if anything, for personal freedom?

Personally, I think it is atrocious that: a) companies are trying to patent the building bricks of human life and b) that the judicial system and patenet office let’s it continue without much thought.

Lots of things scare me these days. This, folks, is one of those things that really scares me.