Walmart has a plan in the event that a global bee extinction happens, and it sounds like the premise of a Black Mirror episode. Newsweek reports that the retail giant has filed a patent for a “pollination drone,” which will do all of the work that a bee does, namely pollinate crops to ensure the survival of numerous fruit and vegetable species. According to Newsweek, the drone will be outfitted with cameras and sensors that will help it to locate flowers and pollen. It will also be equipped with “sticky bristles” that will enable it to draw out the pollen and hold it until it flies to another flower.
So why is Walmart getting into the pollination drone business? CB Insights reports that the retailer is making investments into strengthening their supply chain because of increased competition with Amazon. Jeff Bezos’ online retail juggernaut made a huge push into brick-and-mortar grocery sales when they bought Whole Foods last year. As Fortune reports, over half of Walmart’s revenue comes from grocery sales, so employing these cutting-edge farming could make them more competitive.
Walmart has applied for other patents related to farm automation as well. The company wants to use drones to target pests, survey crop damage, and disseminate pesticides. As Fortune notes, this isn’t Walmart’s first attempt to develop drones for their business. They have previously applied for over 45 patents for drone technology to help them streamline inventory management, logistics, and delivery.
If the thought of robot bees sounds more like science fiction than reality, you’re probably a Black Mirror fan. In the final episode of Season 3, “Hated In the Nation,” robot bees were developed for pollination purposes. But a nefarious hack weaponizes them and turns the bees into a swarm of killer soldiers that can be used to attack targets identified by a social media hashtag. The bees kill people by flying up their nostrils and short-circuiting their brains.
What’s more, there’s bee drone technology that’s already in development. As the Wyss Institute at Harvard University reports, researchers there have already created drones that can act like bees. These “Robobees,” as they call them, are approximately half the size of a paper clip and weigh less than one-tenth of a gram. They use “artificial muscles” to fly, and some versions can also swim underwater and “perch” on surfaces thanks to static electricity.