Japanese researchers have attached a bubble machine to a drone to show how artificial pollination could work.
About three-fourths of the world's crops depend on insect pollination to reproduce. However, due to climate change and the widespread use of pesticides, bee and other pollinator numbers are declining worldwide. Some countries report annual beehive losses of 30% or higher.
Due to this scarcity, many U.S. farmers have resorted to trucking bees around the country when pollinators are needed. Scientists warn about what this could mean for the future of our food supply. Japanese researchers, however, say they might have a solution and it involves blowing soap bubbles.
Researchers created a light bubble solution that was able to suspend both natural pollen grains and a germination solution. When researchers used that solution in a bubble gun, they achieved a 95% pollination rate in a pear orchard — the same as if done by hand. In a more controlled setting, researchers attached a bubble machine to a drone to prove the method could work fully autonomously.
Although this method seems promising, researchers acknowledge that it cannot totally replace bees and they recognize the limitations of their concept. They are looking into eco-friendlier soaps and ways to render the next step, an autonomous drone that pollinates an entire field, more efficient.