Natural pollinators, particularly honey bees, are disappearing at an alarming rate. This poses serious risks for agriculture as bees are the primary pollinators of a vast variety of crops. Their disappearance could compromise the work of food producers, ultimately reducing the amount of food available on the market.

Researchers at West Virginia University (WVU) have recently developed an autonomous robot inspired by bees, which can pollinate bramble plants within a greenhouse environment. BrambleBee uses state-of-the-art localization and mapping techniques, as well as other tools that enable visual perception, path planning, motion control, and manipulation.

"One of the major issues concerning current agricultural production is crop pollination," Yu Gu, one of the researchers who developed the robot told TechXplore. "Thirty-five percent of the global crop production volume, approximately $577 billion a year, relies on the service of pollinators. However, the recent decline of honey bees has greatly threatened productivity. From both economic and food sustainability points of view, there is an urgent need to seek alternative pollination systems."

To address this problem, Gu and his colleagues have designed a prototype precision pollinator robot to pollinate bramble, blackberry and raspberry plants, in a greenhouse environment. Their project is funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), under the National Robotics Initiative.