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Anyone who has seen Charlie Brooker’s dark anthology series will tell you that Black Mirror does an excellent job of mixing realism and Science Fiction concepts to create a world that, whilst technologically advanced, is still recognisably our own.

Throughout the series Brooker addresses concepts such as the growing impact of social media on our lives and how public frustration with the system can lead to the rise of, shall we say, extreme political characters.

Occasionally this series has proved to be eerily prescient, for example, with certain revelations about the alleged porcine antics of our ex-PM David Cameron, or the comparisons being drawn between the political situation in “The Waldo Moment” and the election of another, frankly cartoonish, character across the pond.

But Black Mirror has done it yet again, as a recent paper released from researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology shows.

“75% of flowers reply on bees to reproduce”

The episode I specifically refer to is called “Hated in the Nation”.

In this episode the extinction of bumblebees has led to the development of drones called Automated Drone Insects (ADIs). This is exactly what researchers have been developing.

These drones are miniature flying robots designed to assist with the pollination of the 75% of flowers that rely on bees to reproduce. Pollination refers to the transfer of pollen between flowers and is essential for reproduction.

A bee on some yellow flower heads
Image: pixabay.com

Many flowers rely on certain insects and particularly bees for pollination, offering up the incentive of nectar in return for this vital role.

Recently the bee population has faced several threats, including attack by pesticides and the destruction of their natural habitat, along with the prevalence of certain parasites and the aptly named Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious phenomenon which occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear, leaving behind their queen, the foundation of their hives.

The mechanisms of CCD are poorly understood, but many factors including pesticides, mites, fungi, beekeeping practices, starvation, other pathogens, and immunodeficiency may all have an impact (alternatively, as Whovians will tell you, they’re returning to Melissa Majora).

a tractor sprays a field through trees
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The sum of all this is that the bee population is declining rapidly, with an estimated loss of approximately 3 million honey-producing colonies in the last 50 or so years.

This has had a significant effect on agriculture, as the reduction of pollinators leads to decreasing crop yields and financial losses.

This is where the drones come in. These miniature robots are designed to deal with the pollination demand, with gel coated hairs on the base of the drone brushing up against the anthers, picking up pollen, which it then leaves on the stamen of the next flower it visits.

“reduction of pollinators leads to decreasing crop yields and financial losses”

The aim is for these drones to eventually be outfitted with GPS, high resolution cameras and basic Artificial Intelligence, becoming almost fully autonomous – though it is likely to be some time before this becomes an option.

There also remains the question of whether or not the plans will be economically feasible at the large scale required or whether alternative strategies designed to conserve and promote bee populations would be better from both an environmental and an economic perspective.

We hope this will help to counter the problem of bee decline,” says Eiljiro Miyako, one of the project developers. “But importantly, bees and drones should be used together.

4 bumblebees on the heart of a sunflower
Image: maxpixel

It remains to be seen whether or not these drones will be released on a wide scale in the near future. However, one must admit the project is certainly intriguing.

The prospects for further integration of robotics into daily life provide fuel for the imagination, as we move closer to the world of Science Fiction.

Hopefully it will prove more Utopian than Dystopian.

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