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A team of engineers at the University of Washington have found a new way to collect data using bumblebees. UW’s School of Computer Science & Engineering is the first to create a sensing system - complete with wireless communication and location tracking - that fits on the back of a bumblebee. Researcher Vikram Iyer says they chose bumblebees because they can fly much longer than drones. "In this work, we leverage nature's flying machines to carry wireless sensors we can use for things like smart farming," Iyer said. The tiny backpack sensors can collect data on crops like temperatures, humidity and overall health. They also collect data on their own locations. "At the same time, we broadcast radio signals to tiny circuits on the bees to track where they're going in a 2-D space," Iyer said. He adds that bumblebees return to a hive each night, so data from their sensors can be uploaded and their tiny batteries recharged. The team will present their research at the 25th Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking next year.
In the latest example of Black Mirror episodes come to life, a group of researchers at the University of Washington are equipping bees with a tiny backpack full of sensors to help farmers grow their crops. In yet another example of roboticists looking to the efficiency of nature for solutions to man-made problems, these cyborg bees could hold the key to improving crop yields to feed a ballooning global population.
Lead author Vikram Iyer and his colleagues glued a 102 milligram chipboard to the back live bees. The tiny component is made up of a battery, antenna, a tiny processor, temperature and humidity sensors, and components to receive and send radio signals. Iyer tells Inverse that the device would only cost a couple of dollars to make at a large scale and it could give farmers access to the kind of nuanced data current agricultural tech can’t provide. “I think this technology is a great way to complement what drones can do for agriculture,” he explained. “Drones are good for flying at high altitudes or even doing things like spraying crops. Bees, on the other hand, can go up to individual plants, and also give us insights into things like pollination.”