Engineering 101

Bumblebee Backpacks Powered By Insects Electric Energy

Micro-backpacks for bumblebees.

An ecologist and a micro-systems engineer from Bangor University, are working together to create micro-backpacks for bees which are powered by their own electric energy. As they fly from plant to plant collecting nectar, the insects will be followed by small drones so that the scientists can track and study them.

The purpose of the project is so that scientists can learn more about where the bees collect nectar and what might be affecting their numbers.

Paul Cross, Senior Lecturer in the Environment at the University’s School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography explained: “Bee populations – our vital crop and fruit pollinators, are in serious decline; their survival faces challenges on several fronts, insecticides and varroa mites to name a few. 

Micro-technology is enabling scientists and researchers to break new ground

The ability to track bees or other insects over their entire foraging range will be useful in various circumstances. Neonicotinoids and other insecticides, for example, affect the bee’s ability to navigate.

The ability to track them over long distances can help us work out how the nicotinoids are affecting their direction finding. Other applications include tracking Asian hornets (a serious threat to many bee species) in Europe with a view to controlling or eradicating them before it’s too late.”

Saving the bees before it’s too late

The lightweight tracking device is designed to harness the bee’s own electrical energy to power the long range backpacks.

The next step for the bumblebee backpacks is to actually test the device on some bees. The scientists hope the do this in a poly tunnel within the next few months.

How do the backpacks work?

Dr Cristiano Palego, Microsystems expert from the University’s School of Electronic Engineering explained: “Existing bee monitoring devices face limits due to their weight, range, and how long their power source lasts and these are the problems that we’ve set out to resolve using micro-technology.

“We have proven our ability to harvest the bee’s electrical energy to enable us to do away with the need for a battery and our end product will weigh only a third of the bee’s body weight, or less than a raindrop. This solves the weight and battery longevity problems.

Our next step is to develop a mobile receiver to track and follow the bee’s transmitted signal as it forages.”

Micro-technology is enabling scientists and researchers to break new ground across a variety of applications around the world and this latest innovation is certainly set to create a buzz!

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