Skip to Content
Artificial intelligence

Bees that wear tiny sensor-filled backpacks could monitor farms all day long

December 13, 2018

Roboticists often look to the natural world for inspiration. But what about piggybacking technology onto nature itself? Engineers have created a sensing system that effectively turns bumblebees into living drones.

The internet of bees: The University of Washington team glued removable mini “backpacks” onto bees. The packs, which include sensors that monitor temperature, humidity, and light intensity as well as tracking their location, weigh 102 milligrams each, roughly as much as seven grains of uncooked rice. They are powered by a small rechargeable battery that lasts for seven hours and charges wirelessly while the bees are in their hive at night. While in the hive, the backpack can upload its data using a method called backscatter, which lets devices share information by reflecting radio waves transmitted from a nearby antenna.

Down on the robo-farm: It sounds odd, but one day the idea could help farmers gain useful insights into their land and crops. It could also help us learn more about bees themselves, as part of efforts to reverse their global decline.

Bees vs. drones: Farmers already use drones to monitor their crops, for example. But bees offer some advantages over drones. They don’t need charging and so can collect data for the whole day, whereas drones can only fly for 10 or 20 minutes. “We showed for the first time that it’s possible to actually do all this computation and sensing using insects in lieu of drones,” said author Shyam Gollakota. However, bees can’t carry as much weight (the next step is to equip them with cameras, too), and their movements can’t be controlled.

 

Deep Dive

Artificial intelligence

AI for everything: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT reached mass adoption in record time, and reset the course of an entire industry.

What’s next for AI in 2024

Our writers look at the four hot trends to watch out for this year

OpenAI teases an amazing new generative video model called Sora

The firm is sharing Sora with a small group of safety testers but the rest of us will have to wait to learn more.

Google’s Gemini is now in everything. Here’s how you can try it out.

Gmail, Docs, and more will now come with Gemini baked in. But Europeans will have to wait before they can download the app.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.