University equips bumblebees with smart backpacks to replace agricultural drones

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The University of Washington has developed a tiny sensor that can travel on a bumblebee like a backpack. The insects thus form an alternative to the drones that are used in agriculture to inspect the harvest, but which have limited autonomy.

Farms are increasingly using drones to monitor their crops from the air. A problem with this is that the battery of the device usually gives up after twenty to thirty minutes. The University of Washington found a way to outsource the inspection work to insects, and more specifically to the bumblebees that fly over the fields in large numbers anyway. The researchers developed a tiny backpack of barely 100 milligrams with which the insects can collect data about the harvest for up to seven hours. When the bumblebee flies back to its hive in the evening, the measuring equipment is charged again automatically and wirelessly.

At the moment, the sensors can only store 30 kilobytes of data. The information is therefore mainly limited to basic data such as temperature, humidity and light intensity. Another disadvantage is that the data cannot be uploaded until the bumblebee arrives in the hive. The researchers are therefore already working on the next generation of sensors, which can not only store more data, but which can also send information to the server in real time.

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