Who wants robot bees?

This short film is intended to “raise awareness of the growing disappearance of honey bees”, a worthy goal, but all I could think while watching it is “ROBOT BEES ARE AWESOME!” I doubt that is the response they want.

Besides, we’re nowhere near making tiny robots as elegant as real bees.


  1. trollofreason says

    I, for one, welcome our bright, future filled with NuBees, as it implies a number of technological advancements positive to the health, well being, and future of humanity and nature. Still, I think the segment showing the gassing of a wasp, plus the design of the NuBees themselves is a bit of a contrivance. Why make NuBees attractive to predators, and why model them after real bees, anyway? I mean, sure, bees were elegant and well suited for their roles, but only in the restrictive context of the head-to-butt evolutionary matrix. A much more efficient and effective design would be tiny flying octopoids that could ENVELOPE the flower, any flower, ensuring maximum pollination and nectar collection for NuHoney.

  2. mikehuben says

    It would be just as easy for the newbees to carry a nerve gas as an insecticide. Imagine those children twitching and spasming as they die.

    Of course, I’m waiting for people to start equipping existing drones as firebombs. A little thermite goes a long way and is well within their payload limits.

  3. twas brillig (stevem) says

    PZ, you been watchin Orphan Black ? Most recent episode was when the main clone, Sarah, learns that here ex-SO was not only the father of her daughter but also the inventor of robot bees to compensate for the bee epidemic in the Midwest. (also, one of her clones, Cosima, is a PhD student of “evo-devo”). If not, the show is highly recommended. Get thee BBCA, at once. /nerdgasm

  4. twas brillig (stevem) says

    It would be just as easy for the newbees to carry a nerve gas as an insecticide.

    Another TV referral. Elementary (i.e. 2014 NY Sherlock) had a recent episode with little robotic drones that could “sting” you with death-toxin. /TVshill

  5. edmond says

    PZ, be careful about trying to predict what we are “nowhere near”. Technological innovation can be very surprising, and much nearer than we think.

  6. cicely says

    *raising hand*
    I do! I want robot bees!
    (Just not as filler for a bee vacuum, but as a Thing of Joy and Beauty and Awesome, Forever.)

  7. Michael says

    It would have made more sense if they listed all the problems with the robot bee. So it requires a plutonium power source, can’t be recycled, components may cause severe allergic reactions if they touch the skin of most children, and at a bargain cost of only $3 trillion.

  8. chigau (違う) says

    Paraphrasing Will Rogers,
    “If technology got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?”

  9. julial says

    Paraphrasing Will Rogers,
    “If technology got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?”

    Simply because the technology as driven by market forces does not have sufficient foresight to recognize problems with sufficient lead time to keep them from killing us. Even if that were not the case, the complexity of complete ecosystems is probably beyond the capacity of humans to comprehend, predict or repair when damaged.
    Bring on the strong AI.

  10. Callinectes says

    Greenpeace stole my idea.

    Oh well. I still have my squidwasps to work on. There’s no current niche for them, but they’ll find one. Nature will have to put up or get out of the way.

  11. EvoMonkey says

    What about honey? I’ll stick with the real deal. Bee vomit is so delicious. I had some on my controlled bacterially spoiled milk this morning.

  12. chigau (違う) says

    julial #16
    In the original, Will Rogers was asking the question about “stupidity”.

  13. dhall says

    There was an article about this in ‘Scientific American’ a few months ago, written by a couple of folks who were working to develop these kinds of robots. Of course, it was the usual idealistic, naive sort of article that seems so common in that magazine, meaning that the authors apparently could not imagine anyone using such tiny robots for anything but benign purposes, which would seem to reflect the overall cluelessness of the editorial staff as well. Then again, the very notion that we could actually replace a species as thoroughly and perfectly as the authors suggest speaks to a high level of naivety. We won’t. We’re not that smart. Unintended consequences seem far more likely.

  14. says

    In his “Robot Series”, Isaac Asimov wrote a short story where robots were used to repair the damage done to the environment by humans. It didn’t involve robotic bees though. Instead robobirds were invented to catch and kill insect pests. They were programmed to remove pest species and leave beneficial species untouched. Presumably the real birds were killed off by pesticides contaminating their insect prey. Lets hope this doesn’t become a necessary evil.

  15. plainenglish says

    PZ: “to raise awareness of the growing disappearance of honey bees”, a worthy goal…”
    I cannot joke about about this one much, being a B.C. farmer and seeing/hearing of the declining population of bees hereabouts. I just feel sad that there seems such a disinterest in the bee. The least of the things it offers the consumer biped is honey. Unless we can unravel the decline, we are in for very hard times. But perhaps, like climate change, the whole shebang is a ruse by atheistic scientists wanting to show how God is not in control at all! Yes, that must be it. The Devil is at the helm. (I could continue but I have to go phone Ham for advice: He’ll know who to pray to for help against PZ and his evil hoarde.)

  16. says

    I think they missed their mark pretty badly with this one. It’s all too perfect and beautiful to get across the message that something essential has been lost.

    As presented, the New Bees are an optimal replacement for bees (for the purposes of plant pollination), doing all their jobs better than the real thing. And they made them so gorgeous to watch in action… the robot bees are appealing, not repulsive.

    I would have gone for something like tiny little quadcopter drones — recognisable for what they are, and closer to achievable tech; while also being explicitly artificial, and ever-so-slightly menacing.

    I think ruthless efficiency should have been the illustration. Identical drones flying identical paths, straight lines from plant to plant, no poetry or beauty in their operation. The voiceover could still try and sell it as ‘better’, but I’d have thought they would prefer it to seem forced, rather than self-evident.

    It’s a pretty film. But it’s more of a slightly sad (and yet kind of cool) observation of loss and moving on, than it is a successful call to action about a potential ecological crisis.

  17. plainenglish says

    Oh wait, I did not realize MONSANTO had produced bees too! We are safe and sound.

  18. lorn says

    First, honey bees are not native to North America, so their disappearance is something of a return to normal.

    Second, watching that I had a deep desire to find a web site where I can by a colony of New Bees of my own.

  19. chigau (違う) says

    lorn #29

    …honey bees are not native to North America, so their disappearance is something of a return to normal…

    oooh buzzkill

  20. says

    I dunno, Kevin Kehres @3, Anne D @2 may need to share the thread winnings with Chigau (違う) @30.

    Luckily, there are plenty of internets to go around. Regardless of what games US ISP’s want to play.

  21. rq says

    “Programmed not to harm us” – isn’t that how a lot of humanity-destroying sci-fi movies begin…?

  22. plainenglish says

    lorn@29: Are you native on this dirt? Are you close to returning to normal? (Shite, my family came from elsewhere in the 1700’s. No wonder we are all dying.)

  23. carlie says

    First, honey bees are not native to North America, so their disappearance is something of a return to normal.

    Sure, let’s return to “normal” if that means only what’s native. We can eat amaranth, and apples, and some squashes, and strawberries, and bison. We’ll be just fine.

  24. unclefrogy says

    honey bees are none native but that does not mean there are no native insect pollinators just none that are domesticated . There is no way we could produce an artificial pollinator in the numbers needed to replace the work bees do for the cost to use bees I’m thinking something in the range of a large military system development on a yearly basis probably close to a Carrier Battle Group.
    We could however make a insect like drone to do security work i.e. spy on any and everyone.
    uncle frogy