Sunday 19 February

AP news Feb 17 p.m. 2017

  • A draft memo obtained by the Associated Press shows a Trump administration proposal to mobilize as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants. Under the plan, state governors would decide weather to have there troops participate. The Department of Homeland Security says it never seriously consider the idea, but staff members say it discussed as recently as a week ago.
  • President Donald Trump says he plans to use trade policies to stop foreign cheating. Trump made the comments during a tour of a Boeing plant in North Charleston, South Carolina Friday for the rollout of first 787–10 Dreamliner.
  • Scott Pruitt will lead the Environmental Protection Agency. The Senate approved Trump’s EPA pick Friday by a vote of 52 to 46. Pruitt served six years as Oklahoma’s attorney general and was closely aligned with oil and gas companies there.
  • Adolf Hitler personal traveling telephone could fetch as much as 300,000 dollars. That’s an estimate by the Maryland auction house that’s selling it this weekend, along with a trove of other Hitler artifacts. It’s being sold by the son of a British World War II veteran who received it as a gift during the war.

Robot bees

Plans for artificial pollinators are afoot

Introducing the ultimate drone

From the print edition | Science and technology

Feb 9th 2017

IT IS, in one way, the ultimate drone. In another, though, it is the antithesis of what a drone should be. Drones are supposed to laze around in the hive while their sisters collect nectar and pollinate flowers. But pollination is this drone’s very reason for existing.

The drone in question is the brainchild of Eijiro Miyako, of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, in Tsukuba, Japan. It is the first attempt by an engineer to deal with what many perceive as an impending agricultural crisis. Pollinating insects in general, and bees in particular, are falling in numbers. The reasons why are obscure. But some fear certain crops will become scarcer and more expensive as a result. Attempts to boost the number of natural pollinators have so far failed. Perhaps, thinks Dr Miyako, it is time to build some artificial ones instead.

His pollinator-bot does not, it must be said, look much like a bee. It is a modified version of a commercially available robot quadcopter, 42mm across. (By comparison, a honeybee worker is about 15mm long.) But the modifications mean it can, indeed, pollinate flowers. Specifically — and crucially — Dr Miyako has armed it with paintbrush hairs that are covered in a special gel sticky enough to pick pollen up, but not so sticky that it holds on to that pollen when it brushes up against something else.

Previous attempts to build artificial pollinators have failed to manage this. Dr Miyako, though, has succeeded. Experiments flying the drone up to lily and tulip flowers, so that the gel-laden hairs come into contact with both the pollen-bearing anthers and the pollen-receiving stigmata of those flowers, show that the drone can indeed carry pollen from flower to flower in the way an insect would — though he has yet to confirm that seeds result from this pollination.

At the moment, Dr Miyako’s drones have to be guided to their targets by a human operator. The next stage will be to fit them with vision that lets them recognise flowers by themselves. Fortunately, visual-recognition software is sufficiently developed that this should not be too hard. In future, when you are walking through an orchard in bloom, listen out for the humming of the drones as well as the buzzing of the bees.

This article appeared in the Science and technology section of the print edition under the headline”Where the bee sucks”

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