The RoboBee is a mechanical bee in the design stage at the Microrobotics Lab, housed in a well-appointed building at Harvard University. The RoboBee project's Intelligence Office declares that the robotic inventors are inspired by the bee. The RoboBee project's website and press releases use the imagery of the golden bees that we remember from our love of the cuddly buzzy honey-maker.
But something is wrong with this enterprise. While the RoboBee's press is nearly all positive, and open-faced students have posted euphoric YouTube reports of their robotic work, the whole thing looks quite different to the people of the beekeeping community, who can't help but point out that the real life honey bees and bumble bees are plummeting toward extinction.
After one of our singing rituals at the laboratory, a public relations man named Paul followed us out proclaiming, "But we have nothing to do with colony collapse, and we're sorry that the honey bee is dying..." And yet the RoboBee project's top goal, as stated on their website, is to achieve mechanical pollination. So Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, et al – the Big Ag companies whose agricultural chemicals are driving the honey bees die-off, must be very interested in this honey bee drone. How couldn't they be waiting in the wings? A robot bee would be invaluable as a pesticide-proof pollinator.
These corporate giants apparently expect the RoboBee to come on-line just in time for the real insect's extinction, since there is no evidence that they are reducing sales of the main suspect in the case of the vanishing bees, the neonicotinoid pesticides. (Which must be a very profitable item, on...