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Harvard's Robotic Bees Generate High-Tech Buzz 105

coondoggie writes "Harvard researchers recently got a $10 million grant to create a colony of flying robotic bees, or RoboBees, to (among other things) spur innovation in ultra-low-power computing and electronic 'smart' sensors; and refine coordination algorithms to manage multiple, independent machines. The 5-year, National Science Foundation-funded RoboBee project could lead to a better understanding of how to mimic artificially the unique collective behavior and intelligence of a bee colony; foster novel methods for designing and building an electronic surrogate nervous system able to sense and adapt to changing environments; and advance work on the construction of small-scale flying mechanical devices, according to the Harvard RoboBee Web site."
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Harvard's Robotic Bees Generate High-Tech Buzz

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  • by Iamthecheese ( 1264298 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @06:44PM (#29675579)
    They really should be trying to find something else: more reliable pollination. Yes real bees already do this but mass-produced robo-bees, besides being really cool, don't catch colony-dropping diseases.
    • by religious freak ( 1005821 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @06:50PM (#29675643)

      mass-produced robo-bees ... don't catch colony-dropping diseases

      Who says? The minute a viable robo-bee is created, I'm guessing someone will be thinking up a robo-bee virus. (In fact, a robo-bee virus actually sounds kinda cool!)

    • exactly what I was thinking. Robot bees could guarantee 100% pollination rates or close. Not saying natural bees aren't good. Still Still I wonder if they will make mini flies for spying on people.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheLink ( 130905 )
        The first thing they will need is better batteries (or some other power source/store)

        All that efficient low power electronics is nice and good. But if you're going to have a robot bee fly for more than say 15 minutes, you are going to need better batteries, or really tiny fuel cells, or a really strong wind/tornado ;).

        When you look at that scale we are so far behind. Bees (or even tiny fruit flies) can fly about, navigate, avoid threats, find food, gracefully deal with minor damage and not least of all they
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by camperslo ( 704715 )

      They really should be trying to find something else: more reliable pollination.

      Yes! Perhaps they can even make a variety good at pollinating cherimoya. Apparently South America has some bugs absent in the U.S., so most have to resort to hand-pollination with a small brush or something to get good yields from a cherimoya tree. The fruit is delightful.

    • Would it not be easier to create a gen-eng plant that doesn't need to be pollinated. I mean, come on people... Pollination is so 20th century

      • There is probably a reason that plants (or more specifically, their ancestor) gave up asexual reproduction a long time ago. From memory, the currently accepted reason was that it allowed for more variety in the gene pool and therefore could allow for more agile adaptation to changing environmental factors that are impacting an organism's survival.

        For plants that we're trying to domesticate (see: Artificial Selection []), faster evolution is probably better.
    • They really should be trying to find something else: more reliable pollination. Yes real bees already do this but mass-produced robo-bees, besides being really cool, don't catch colony-dropping diseases.

      You could pollinate with robotic ants, though, or just with some robot that trundles down the lanes sticking probes into flowers. Bees are good at it because bees and plants have co-evolved. Flowers attract bees, and [some] bees actually vibrate their wings at a frequency which stimulates pollen release. This is especially true of bumblebees who are often therefore used for greenhouse pollinators.

      The full mechanism for colony collapse disorder is still not known. The best indicator though is still the varro

  • Maybe they should have mimicked hornets instead of yellow jackets...
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @06:46PM (#29675601) Homepage Journal

    Everything you do at MIT is pointless.
    You don't actually do anything at Harvard.

  • Your firearms are useless against them!
  • Now we can see Nicholas Cage yelling [] "Not the bees! AHHHHHHH They're ROBOTS!"
  • No. Just plain no.

    Paying people to create robotic hiveminds?

    That way lies madness. Terrible, stinging, robotic madness.
  • by HiggsBison ( 678319 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @06:52PM (#29675657)
    Um... um... teach them to spell! Robotic Spelling Bees! Woohoo!
  • Now we just need to get them to make honey and pollinate plants, before the real bee colonies all collapse...

  • Clever? (Score:5, Funny)

    by swanzilla ( 1458281 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @07:14PM (#29675831) Homepage

    Harvard's Robotic Bees Generate High-tech Buzz

    said robotic bees also generate horribly obvious story title pun on /.

  • ... Thats got to sting!
  • As long as Keanu Reeves and a Large one eyed robot aren't involved.
  • by Bobfrankly1 ( 1043848 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @07:40PM (#29675981)
    In the near future...
    "5 Million dollars worth of robo-bees were destroyed when a robotic "Pooh Bear" attempted to retrieve honey from the hive. The Pooh Bear lodged itself into the only high opening, preventing the colony from being able to return to their re-charging stations. Their charge depleted, they fell to the ground and shattered. A "r.a.b.b.i.t." is reportedly en-route to retrieve the pooh bear."
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Zordak ( 123132 )

      Oh, crud. I'm a Winni-the-Pooh geek. Alright, it won't be pretty, but let's just get this over with. I'll do my best on the snarky, elitist fanboi tone, but I can't guarantee the results.

      Sorry, n00b. Pooh Bear didn't get stuck in the hive when he was trying to get honey from the hive. First, the branch broke, then he used a balloon to disguise himself as a rain cloud. When none of that worked, and he concluded they were the wrong sorts of bees, went to Rabbit's house, invited himself to lunch, and gor

      • You know I am just going to assume you are 100% correct. Never heard of a Pooh geek before. Too bad you got modded funny, I would have gone with informative.
        • You know I am just going to assume you are 100% correct.

          He is. But he somehow misspelled "Winnie-the-Pooh".

  • He's protected from 3 inch bees, that's right.
    He's protected from 3 inch bees, tonight!
    A 3 inch bee can't sting this guy!
    A 3 inch bee shouldn't even try!
    He's protected from 3 inch bees, that's right!
  • Shades of Michael Chricton's Prey []. Fun.
  • Boston dynamics teams up with Harvard to make a robot dog with robot bees in its mouth and when it barks it shoots bees at you.

  • Is it bad that the first thing I thought of was marketing shills?

  • by RNLockwood ( 224353 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @08:25PM (#29676253) Homepage

    This appears to have military applications, say a swarm of cheap cruise missiles that any country could afford. Other than that it is way cool.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by marciot ( 598356 )

      How much explosive power can you pack into a bee-sized missile? I doubt being able to set off firecrackers would qualify as military firepower.

      • How much explosive power can you pack into a bee-sized missile?

        How much venom does a coral snake bite deliver?
      • I would expect that the communications and organization software could be used in to good advantage in a swarm of cruise missiles that might be from 3 to 6 meters or more long.

        Of course if each "bee" has a quarter gram of HE a swarm might be able to deliver enough to do some precise damage, but that's not what I was thinking.

    • by TwistedGreen ( 80055 ) <twistedgreen AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday October 08, 2009 @12:31AM (#29677381)
      Exploding bees? That doesn't seem very useful given the small payload capacity. A more practical military application would be in targeted chemical/biological warfare. A sentry hive placed outside a military outpost could sniff intruders for a chemical friend-or-foe signature and, if it's absent, they could attack. This could even be used as a non-lethal weapon if the robotic insects injected a paralytic agent rather than a toxin.

      The military applications are actually extremely interesting!
      • Yea mean like ketamine-laced robot bees? That would be awesome.

        I can see it now... A high-security military installation is equipped with a hive of these sentry bees. News of the security mechanism spreads to a local college campus, and on Monday morning guards at the military installation find their perimeter lined with hundreds of catatonic k-holing [] college students.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Nah, they'd be easy to thwart via flying windshields.

  • The 5-year, National Science Foundation-funded RoboBee project could lead to a better understanding of how to mimic artificially the unique collective behavior and intelligence of a bee colony;

    Technically true, but the same can be achieved with far cheaper computer simulations. In fact I suspect said simulation would be run *before* said behavior is implemented in the pricey flying robots.

  • The exact same project done at most universities would at best get a reference of "scientists do XYZ". Harvard does it (or MIT, even more) and not only it's more likely to get promoted, it also gets the headline "Harvard researchers do XYZ". Slashdot is for intelligent people (ok, mostly). We shouldn't be feeding the hype cycle.

  • by Master Moose ( 1243274 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:44PM (#29676865) Homepage
    Half a bee, philosophically, Must, ipso facto, half not be. But half the bee has got to be Vis a vis, its entity. D'you see? But can a bee be said to be Or not to be an entire bee When half the bee is not a bee Due to some ancient injury?
  • Back in the sixties I had a band called Electric Honey
  • I doubt that $10 million is enough to get very far in reverse engineering biological bees, much less building a colony of robo-bees with features similar to bio-bees. Nature has spent millions of years on a massively parallel R&D project to create bees as we see them today. At MIT rates, $10 million should be just enough to get some professors by until they need more grant money, and maybe pad the resumes of some grad students. There will be no robo-bee overlords anytime soon.

  • What a waste of money, if you want a swarm of mechanical bees place a bounty of 10 million on it and it will get done!

  • Anytime a grant is designed to 'spur innovation', that raises a red flag in my book. It isn't a grant to actually innovate, no, that would be too useful...instead it is a grant that is supposed to inspire others to innovate!
  • This is worse than my 'Terminator nightmares' ! ! . . . .I wasnt dead chuffed when I first heard about Africanised Bees n e way! .... Maybe we coud race them?
  • I think it's obligatory to reference Asimov [] in any story about robo-bees.
  • You're after my robot bee!

  • I've followed the development of these extremely small flyers for some time and it seems to me that the real technical issue is not the smarts and sensors that you need to build into them - after all, we can make custom circuits just about as small as we need to. The real issue with these flyers and even smaller nanoscale devices is a viable power source. Every video you have seen to date has run these things tethered to an external power source. It just won't be real until the bee (or nano device) can lift

"Only a brain-damaged operating system would support task switching and not make the simple next step of supporting multitasking." -- George McFry