How Technology Is Copying Nature To Get Important Work Done
November 9, 2018
Somebody once told me that the most civilized model for business is nature. He told me if people would stop fighting nature and look to it instead for inspiration and common sense, they would find the answers they need to succeed.
A successful businessman himself, James Cox runs Method Seven, a company that designs grow room sunglasses using seven different elements from the Earth.
There are others out there who share the same guiding principals. Researchers at West Virginia University have developed a very cool autonomous pollinator called The BrambleBee.
The goal is to maximize pollination for berries grown undercover or in high tunnels, where bees aren’t always able to perform as well as they can out in natural settings.
Of course, there are many advantages to growing in these undercover tunnels or in greenhouses. The main one, though, is that the growing season itself is easily extended by several months. But according to Growing Produce, the diffusion of light makes the navigation of honey bees a lot more difficult, causing them to become disoriented.
The USDA says crop pollination is a serious concern in current agricultural production. In fact, $24 billion worth of crops depends on pollination every year. Unfortunately, natural pollinators are disappearing. Colony collapse disorder, climate change, and widespread pesticide use have led to a rapid decline in the honey bee population. Other insects are also vanishing. We have no choice but to find alternative pollination systems.
The research team at West Virginia University have designed an incredible robot equipped with an arm that is carried around from flower to flower by a ground rover. A built-in computer estimates the flower position, size, orientation, and physical condition, helping guide the robotic arm in its interaction with the flowers.
The actual act of pollination is carried out by a set of soft brush tips, very similar to the little hairs on a bee’s body. The history of flower development and pollination status is kept in a database within the robot, making sure that no plant is forgotten.
The BrambleBee bypasses all of the unfortunate issues natural pollinators face and the USDA says the advanced technology will also improve fruit quality and production.
The researchers say the goal isn’t to replace bees altogether; we all need to be very active in saving these populations by going completely pesticide-free and by building pollinator gardens. But, the robotic pollinator does help in situations where bee populations are disappearing or unable to do their work effectively, such as in a tunnel or greenhouse.
The robot is just in its very early stages, but once researchers have worked out all of the kinks, they’d like to test its actual effectiveness by comparing its pollination rates and success to those of manual pollination and bee pollination.
It’s the beginning of a new era.
Another really interesting project right now has scientists looking to the seeds from a dandelion flower for inspiration. When blown from their stem, the fluffy, white seeds spread quickly due to their amazing flying capabilities.
Researchers from Edinburgh University say the flight of the seeds can be mimicked for future engineering projects, such as the design of drones for defense companies.
Nature has evolved for so long and can do so many incredible things. So, mimicking it and creating useful things for the world based on its wild success makes sense, doesn’t it?