The demise of honey bee populations worldwide has become one of the most pressing ecological concerns of our time. Over the last decade, it’s been estimated that some 30–70% European honey bee colonies have collapsed or disappeared, prompting fears of agricultural collapse due to the vital role honey bees play in pollinating crops. Scientists still aren’t sure what the exact cause of colony collapse might be, although it is believed pesticides, genetically modified crops, or even electromagnetic radiation from cellphone towers might be factors.
To help stave off agricultural catastrophe, engineers around the world have begun tossing around ideas to create tiny drones which might pollinate crops in the absence of real bees. While this idea sounds like exactly like a recent Black Mirror episode, things got even more dystopian with the recent discovery of the filing of patent applications for robo-bee systems on behalf of retail giant and all-around nefarious corporation Walmart. What exactly might Walmart be up to?
The patent was found and posted online by CB Insights, a market research firm which leverages artificial intelligence to analyze trends and identify future disruptions. The patent describes a pretty straightforward centralized network which can control legions of tiny bee drones which go from flower to flower pollinating crops. The patent lists many variations of the same system of pollinating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), some of which do not require human control whatsoever:
In some embodiments, the UAV deployed in the exemplary system does not require physical operation by a human operator and wirelessly communicates with, and is wholly or largely controlled by, the computing device.
Hmm… hordes of tiny autonomous flying bee-bots controlled by the world’s largest retailer…say it with me now: what could go wrong?
Walmart has already been aggressively pursuing the grocery market, and many analysts believe these patents show that the massive multinational corporation might be attempting to control the food supply chain. While many of us (myself included) tend to view anything Walmart does with disdain and loathing, CB Insights notes that such a drone bee system could help the retailer “manage crop yields more effectively” and “increase its emphasis on transparency and sustainability to attract shoppers.” Still, is it wise to allow a retailer to have so much control over such a vital part of our society? Time, as always, will tell.