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Bees with backpacks can turn into sensor swarms

Bee with backpack
Bees with “backpacks” can still eat, control their flight and perform other normal behavior.
(University of Washington via YouTube)

Bees with tiny electronic devices on their backs could sound like a researcher’s dream come true, or like a science-fiction novelist’s nightmare come true.

Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor at the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, prefers the optimistic view. He and his colleagues at UW have found a way to pack environmental sensors into a backpack small enough for a bumblebee to carry.

The approach, which the UW team calls “Living IoT,” brings significant advantages over the human-made kind of drones.

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Why Walmart wants to patent robot bees

Robot bees
Robotic bees were the subject of a dystopian video four years ago. (Greenpeace via YouTube)

Robot bees have hit the big time.

In the 10 days since Walmart’s patent application for “systems and methods for pollinating crops via unmanned vehicles” came to light, the idea of building drones to do what bees do has gone viral.

The piece de resistance came on “Saturday Night Live” when Walmart’s concept got a mention on “Weekend Update” (around the 6:30 mark in this video clip).

“What is Walmart now?” comedian Colin Jost asked. “It’s a department store that became a grocery store, and a firearms dealer, and now they’re just building an army of robot bees?

“I miss the good old days, when Walmart was just a place where I saw my third-grade teacher punch a greeter on Black Friday,” he said.

CB Insights says the patent application is one of six that Walmart filed for farm automation applications, including crop monitoring, pest identification and pesticide spraying.

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