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You like eating, yes? Apples, oranges, berries? For these foods we can thank bees and their extraordinary pollinating powers. Unfortunately, to show our appreciation, humans are killing off bees in staggering numbers—destroying their habitats and poisoning them with pesticides. And at the same time, our population is skyrocketing, which means if we can't get our act together, we have to somehow feed more people with fewer pollinators.
Well, living pollinators, that is. In a greenhouse at West Virginia University, a machine called the BrambleBee is learning to roll around pollinating blackberry bushes, knocking their flowers around (blackberry flowers self-pollinate, so bees or robots just have to jostle them to spread around the pollen). It's no replacement for bees, but in a world with too many humans and not enough pollinators, robots like this could help feed our kind.
BrambleBee - Car - First - Lidar - Lasers
The BrambleBee works not unlike a self-driving car. First it uses lidar, spraying lasers to build a 3-D map of the greenhouse so it can find its way around. For the moment, it looks for QR codes as a stand-in for flowers, but the researchers are close to getting it to snap photos of actual flowers. After traipsing through the rows, it then plans its next pass to reach as many flowers with its arm as possible. Next, once it’s positioned itself in front of a plant, another camera on that arm will make an even higher-resolution 3-D map of the crop.
If BrambleBee determines a flower is ready for pollination, it will use a small 3-D printed brush of flexible polyurethane bristles on the end of its arm to gently stroke the blossom. This transfers pollen from the male reproductive organs, called anthers, to the pistils, where pollination commences. The robot will even remember what flowers it already hit, so it can make multiple...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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