Forget Drones. 'RoboBees' and 'RoBirds' Take Flight.

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If you think drones are cool, our skies are about to get a lot more high-tech. Researchers are developing robotic birds and bees -- and they might take flight soon.

This isn’t what your parents had in mind when they talked about the birds and the bees.

One group of researchers from Northeastern University and Harvard University's Wyss Institute is developing tiny, flying robots that could one day communicate with one another to independently, artificially pollinate crops.

Related: Meet Plantoid, the Robot That Grows Like the Roots of a Plant

The RoboBee team is looking to the behaviors of insects to create a group of robots that could also accomplish tasks that range from surveillance, to aiding in search and rescue missions and mapping the weather. The robots weigh 80 milligrams each and have nearly invisible wings that span 3 cm and flap 120 times per second.

Here’s why: Lately, scientists have been investigating the rising deaths of honeybee populations in the U.S. The troubling phenomenon is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and it's a big deal. Honeybees pollinate about a quarter of the fruits and veggies Americans eat, which amounts to about $30 billion a year.

However, on the project's site, the team cautions that they don't "see robotic pollination as a…viable long-term solution to Colony Collapse Disorder…we are 20 years away from that possibility -- it would only be as a stop-gap measure." 

Related: This Traveling Robot Isn't Just a Pile of Junk on the Side of the Road

While the RoboBees might seem cool, they aren't ready to go to work just yet. Meanwhile, a Dutch aeronautics company called Clear Flight Solutions has created a similar project. The 2-year-old startup specializes in building robotic birds that act as protective scarecrows, keeping real wild birds from dangerous areas, like crop fields laced with harmful pesticides, waste dumps and airports. 

The “robirds” are 3-D printed and made of nylon and glass fiber. They are battery powered and look like predators, specifically bald eagles and falcons.

It seems that the sky's the limit for this innovative menagerie of robotic creatures.
Edition: July 2017

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