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Harvard Gets $10M to Create RoboBee Swarms

The world of insect cyborgs is abuzz over news about the latest addition to the ever-expanding robo phylum. In news that may soon send even the most cuddly winged creatures to the unemployment line, Harvard researchers have received a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation to spawn an army of robot bees, reports Network World. The RoboBee project is slated to span 5 years, and, according to the Harvard RoboBee Web site, could not only provide insight about how to mimic the collective behavior and intelligence of a typical bee community, but also lead to further advances in the electrical engineering and construction of micro flying devices. If all goes according to plan, the robotic bees will be able to fly on their own, and work cooperatively with each other to coordinate hive business, just like the real thing. The similarities, though, stop at the stinger; scientists confirm that the robots, unlike their organic counterparts, will not have stingers.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the bees' potential social and environmental impact. Researchers expect the machine bees to pollinate plants autonomously, a feature that could lead to more efficient agricultural practices. They may also be able to provide assistance in coordinated emergency rescue efforts, using mobile sensor and environmental monitoring networks to help search for and locate, for instance, workers who are in danger.

On the surface, at least, this seems like another chapter in the long narrative of machines' insidious takeover of nature. Extreme precaution should, of course, always be taken whenever we decide to tinker with Mother Nature's calibration, no matter how seemingly negligible the adjustment. Given the precarious existence of honeybees as of only a couple of years ago, the benefits of a mechanized eco-stimulus, if properly managed, may outweigh potential negative externalities. (Ed. note: Whatever that means. We're still freaked out about armies of BEES!!! Ripping our flesh off!!) In the short term, at least, the project will hopefully shed new light on the hive mentality, while also marking significant advances in robotic technology. For now, though, RoboBee and its contemporaries are only at the very early stages of techno-gestation, so we probably won't have to answer any larger, socio-ecological questions for a few years. We're just happy to hear they won't be equipped with stingers, or else things could get ugly. [From: Network World]

Tags: bees, biomimicry, harvard, nature, robot, robots, top

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