The world’s largest private company is looking to enter the drone market, but these aren’t your typical consumer-grade unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). According to CNET, Walmart has filed a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for autonomous drone bees that can pollinate crops.
While often viewed as a nuisance, bees play an important role in agriculture. According to Greenpeace USA, a single honey bee can pollinate up to 300 million flowers per day. While some crops, such as grains, are pollinated naturally by the wind, others rely on bees to carry pollen. Many fruits and vegetables, for instance, are pollinated by bees. Without these tiny flying insects, we wouldn’t be able to grow many common fruits and vegetables.
Unfortunately, the global bee population has been steadily declining, raising concern among biologists and farmers alike. From April 2016 to April 2017, professional beekeepers in the United States say they lost roughly one-third of their honey bee populations. There are several reasons for the declining bee populations, one of which is destruction of habitat. As forests and fields turn into parking lots, there’s less space for bees to reproduce. The increased use of pesticides is also believed to be affecting bee populations, stunting their growth and preventing them from reproducing.
But Walmart’s new drone bees could help by pollinating crops just like real bees. According to the patent, Walmart wants to create robotic bee-like drones that feature one or more applicators for collecting and releasing pollen. The drone bee would pick up pollen from one flower and move it to another flower, thus pollinating the latter. It would also feature a sensor to determine when pollen has been released on the flower.
Furthermore, Walmart’s drone bees would be equipped with several small cameras to better detect which flowers need pollen. This is important because pollinating flowers that don’t need pollinating is unnecessary. Therefore, the drone bees will use sensors and cameras to scan the landscape in search of flowers that need pollinating the most.
In addition to its drone bee, Walmart filed several other patents with the USPTO, including a pest-exterminating drone and a drone that monitors the health of crops.