Substituting soap-bubble robots for pollinating insects.

Cell reveals a potential replacement for pollinators – the vital insects who keep plants from almonds to corn to quinoa reproducing – by using flying robotic bubble-makers:

Natural and artificial flower pollination are critical processes in the life cycle of flowering plants. Declines in the number of global pollinator insects, the heavy labor of conducting artificial pollination manually, and the rising cost of pollen grains are considered to be significant worldwide problems. Here we show that chemically functionalized soap bubbles exhibit effective and convenient delivery of pollen grains to the targeted flowers thanks to their stickiness, softness, high flexibility, and enhancement of pollen activity. By exploring the physicochemical properties of functional soap bubbles, we could prepare mechanically stabilized soap bubbles capable of withstanding the windmills produced by robotic pollination. An unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with a soap bubble maker was autonomously controlled to pollinate flowers. Such technology of automatic intelligent robotic pollination with functional soft materials would lead to innovative agricultural systems that can tackle the global issues of pollination.

We believe that the steady liquid membrane and the large surface area of soap bubbles are suitable media for delivering microscopic lightweight pollen grains for pollination and that the easy degradation and the low cost of the eco-friendly ingredients of soap bubbles are attractive and unique features. In addition, flowers do not sustain substantial physical damage from directly shooting soap bubbles because soap bubbles are lightweight, soft, and highly flexible.

There are images as well as plenty of data at the link.