Robots can now pollinate flowers with more precision

Robotic pollinator might decrease reliance on bees

WSU researchers are creating a robotic pollination system to stabilize the pollination process, decreasing growers’ dependence on bees. According to Matthew Whiting, professor at the Department of Horticulture Research and Extension Center, the Engineering and Horticulture Science Departments will collaborate to develop an artificial pollination system that is more precise.

He and his team are examining optimum times for pollination when the robotic system would apply pollen to flowers, he said. Using this system will decrease reliance on bees and increase the sustainability of pollination.

“From a farmer’s point of view, the potential to remove so much biological variability in pollination and to set the crop has tremendous potential advantages,” Whiting said. “We can be more precise and more consistent, [which] would lead to a more sustainable production of high-value food crops.”

“There is just so much biological variability when you use bees as pollinators, and this past spring was a really great example of that,” he said. “The cherry trees in the state of Washington began to flower, but it was too cold for pollinators to fly. All these flowers were opening, and there were no pollinators pollinating.”

Although the project aims to decrease dependency on bees, it will not eliminate the need for these pollinators, Whiting said: “The motivation here is certainly not to get rid of the bees,” he said. “[We] would rather have less dependence on these managed pollinator communities and introduce more precision into the process.”



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