It turns out the gel worked quite well to pick up and transfer pollen, but that didn't solve the problem of actually getting moving it between plants. Bees flit from flower to flower getting nectar for food and in doing so, deliver pollen to where it needs to go for the plants to reproduce. The research team then flew the drones between plants and was able to successfully pollinate them remotely. The drones were then ready to grab and release pollen grains. Just last month and for the first time in US history, the rusty patched bumblebee that was so prevalent two decades ago officially became a struggling bunch.
"The findings, which will have applications for agriculture and robotics, among others, could lead to the development of artificial pollinators and help counter the problems caused by declining honeybee populations", Miyako says. "Unfortunately, this requires much time and effort".
One of the attempts generated a gel as sticky as hair wax, which the researchers considered a failure.
Scientists have thought about using drones, but scientists haven't figured out how to make free-flying robot insects that can rely on their own power source without being attached to a wire. Clearly this wouldn't do, and so Miyako stuck it in a storage cabinet in an uncapped bottle.
Also, mechanical replacement of pollinators, while feasible at small scales, is very unlikely to be economically possible at the levels needed for crop pollination, Brosi said.
And better yet, Miyako noticed that when the gel was dropped on the floor it picked up an unusual amount of dust.
Therefore, he (and many) doubt about the possibility for drones to replace that, giving the financial issue that would mean to any country.
He took ants, slathered the ionic gel on some of them and let both the gelled and ungelled insects wander through a box of tulips. The ants with the gel collected more pollen on their bodies.
Miyako and Chechetka collaborated with AIST colleagues Masayoshi Tange and Yue Yu on using horse hair to mimic the fuzzy exterior of a bee.
The scientists looked at the hairs under a scanning electron microscope and counted up the pollen grains attached to the surface. The bottom is covered in horsehair, so as not to damage plants' stamens and pistils, coated in a sticky gel. Though it is obvious that a drone pollinator will not be enough to replace the work of bees, but it is a great technology for nature and alternative as the populations decline, Gizmodo reported.
"In combination is the best way", he says. Advances in technology should eventually allow swarms of drones to operate on their own, using Global Positioning System and artificial intelligence, similar to a plotline on the show "Black Mirror".
There's a lot of work to be done before that's a reality, however.