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"Bee Bots" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Harvard University scientists and engineers seek to artificially mimic the collective behavior and "intelligence" of a bee colony with the goal of gaining a greater understanding of fields such as entomology, developmental biology, amorphous computing and electrical engineering.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: bee buzzing) Real or robobee?

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: outdoors, birds chirping) Next time you're at a picnic shooing one away from your soda can, consider the model of efficiency and coordination that is--the marvelous bee. Now consider what it would take to create a robotic version of that bee: You'd need flight apparatus and power systems, sensing and decision-making circuits, systems that let bees work independently on different tasks, while working together in swarms toward a common goal. And all of this would have to fit into a flying package the size of a--bee.

That's the scope of the robobee project, led by researchers at Harvard University. It's part of the National Science Foundation's Expeditions in Computing Program.

Inspired by nature's design, the team is working to drive advances in compact high-energy power systems, ultra-low-power computing, and electronic "smart" sensors. They're refining methods that let machines fly autonomously and coordinate tasks with one another, like real bees.

So what could you use robobees for? The common jobs of regular bees pollination and other agricultural duties. They could also collect data from hazardous environments, monitor traffic, conduct military surveillance--even assist with search and rescue operations.

Robobees--bee bots--the latest buzz from our 'bee'-list.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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