If the trajectory of our pollinator population continues, we might need the BrambleBee soon.
Inside a greenhouse at West Virginia University, a robot is rolling down aisles of blackberry plants learning to act like a bee. Computer vision algorithms are being developed to help the robot locate flowers, and its robotic arm, topped with a set of soft brush tips–designed to act like a bee’s hairs–will gently reach out to each flower and pollinate it. At the moment, the arm is practicing its technique on QR codes placed inside the blackberry bushes.
“From a robotics point of view, we’re always trying to find solutions to the urgent problems in the world,” says Yu Gu, an engineering professor at the university who is working on the design of the robot, called the BrambleBee. Around three-quarters of food plants rely at least in part on pollinators, and pollinators are struggling.