A team of researchers at West Virginia University have been developing a series of pollination robots designed to take over the tasks of pollinators such as bees, some moths, butterflies and flies.

Because thousands of these pollinators are endangered species and their possible extinction threatens global food security, the researchers were inspired to develop alternative pollination approaches, including robot pollinators that autonomously disperse pollen in the air.

Source: Smith et al.Source: Smith et al.

To enable these pollinators to pollinate virtually every type of flower, the West Virginia University team has developed a six-armed precision pollination robot, dubbed Stickbug.

The six-armed Stickbug is a precision pollination robot that reportedly combines the accuracy of single-agent systems with swarm parallelization in greenhouses.

Building on a robotic platform the researchers developed a few years ago called BrambleBee, which was able to successfully pollinate flowers in the bramble family, including blackberry and raspberry flowers, but that only featured a single manipulator, the team created the new pollination robot with several arms, thus making it capable of pollinating more flowers simultaneously and tackling different pollination tasks independently.

"Stickbug uses a compact holonomic Kiwi drive to navigate narrow greenhouse rows, a tall mast to support multiple manipulators and reach plant heights, a detection model and classifier to identify bramble flowers, and a felt-tipped end-effector for contact-based pollination," the researchers described.

During a trial of the Stickbug prototype, the team placed the robot in front of an artificial bramble plant. The robot was tasked with pollinating as many flowers as possible within a 5 minute period.

According to the team’s findings, Stickbug attempted more than 1.5 pollinations per minute with a 50% rate of success rate.

Stickbug is expected to be tested on real plants and in real-world settings in the near future.

An article detailing the Stickbug, “Design of Stickbug: a Six-Armed Precision Pollination Robot," appears in the journal arXiv.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com