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Researchers Turn Bees Into High-Tech Drones - Carlos Gamino
News from Attorney Carlos Gamino

Backpacks for Bees Helping Researchers

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By Carlos Gamino

Backpacks for bees?

It's a thing now, thanks to researchers at the University of Washington.

But they're not ordinary backpacks - you won't find tiny little lunches or stacks of books inside them. Instead, engineers at UW announced that they're using honeybees as live drones that carry all kinds of tech.

The honeybees are carrying a sensor package that weighs about 102 milligrams, which is about the same weight as seven grains of uncooked rice. The flying wireless platform includes sensors, wireless communication capabilities and location trackers. They're going to use the bees to measure things like temperature, humidity and crop health.

"We decided to use bumblebees because they're large enough to carry a tiny battery that can power our system," said Vikram Iyer, a doctoral student in the UW Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "With a drone, you're just flying around randomly, while a bee is going to be drawn to specific things, like the plants it prefers to pollinate. And on top of learning about the environment, you can also learn a lot about how the bees behave." 

Bees usually fly in a 100-meter radius of their hives, which means they're easy to track and easy to find.

"To test the localization system, we did an experiment on a soccer field," said Anran Wang, a doctoral student in the Allen School. "We set up our base station with four antennas on one side of the field, and then we had a bee with a backpack flying around in a jar that we moved away from the antennas. We were able to detect the bee's position as long as it was within 80 meters, about three-quarters the length of a football field, of the antennas."

What Do You Think?

I’d love to see what you think about turning nature’s drones into tools to advance science and technology, so please share your thoughts on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino