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Optical Design & Engineering

Ants, bees, and octopuses: bioinspired robotics, drones, and smart structures

Photonics for a Better World

27 March 2017, SPIE Newsroom. DOI:

Can you imagine a world in which our crops and flowers are pollinated by autonomous drones the size of bees? Researchers at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology believe this reality could be closer than we may think due to staggering declines in bee populations around the world.

Eijiro Miyako and his colleagues have used the principle of cross-pollination to engineer a bioinspired robotic pollinator, which can mimic the functionality of real bees, reports an article published in Science Direct. Measuring 4 centimeters wide and weighing a mere 15 grams, each drone is equipped with a strip of horsehair coated in an iconic liquid gel, allowing it to pick up pollen from one flower and deposit it in another.

Robotic pollinator: PBW: Ants, bees, and octopuses

Robotic pollinator
Photo: Miyako et al.

"GPS, high-resolution cameras and artificial intelligence will be required for the drones to independently track their way between flowers and land on them correctly, " said Miyako.

While other methods sometimes prove to be more practical in some applications, bioinspired technology offers unique solutions to a wide variety of complex problems across numerous industries, and research is advancing.

Smart structures such as this are the focus of Bioinspiration, Biomimetics, and Bioreplication VII, a conference at SPIE Smart Structures/Nondestructive Evaluation 25–29 March in Portland. This conference features research and technology influenced by natural biological processes found in a variety of plants and organisms, and includesreports on research for several applications areas.

See news + photos from SPIE Smart Structures/NDE.