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Walmart just filed a patent for robot bees amid ongoing battle with Amazon

Amid an ongoing battle over the retail and grocery delivery market, Walmart has filed a patent for robotic bees that would pollinate crops just like the real insects.

Image: Shutterstock.


Walmart has filed a patent for robotic bees that would pollinate crops just like the real insects.

The patent outlines how tiny autonomous “pollination drones” would use sensors to locate crops, transport pollen, and verify which crops have been successfully pollinated. It would be a significantly more efficient way to pollinate crops than crop dusting, the patent suggests.

In total, Walmart has filed six patents for drone farming technologies, including ones that would identify pests and monitor crop health. The retail giant has yet to comment on exactly how it plans to use the new technology, but it’s possible Walmart plans to start an agricultural operation, a move that could help expand its grocery business and lead to more control of its food supply chain.

It’s among the latest developments in the ongoing battle between Walmart and Amazon over retail and, more recently, groceries. In February, Amazon began offering free same-day grocery delivery service to its Prime members in select cities, and earlier this week Walmart announced plans to offer grocery delivery service in more than 800 of its stores for a flat rate of $9.95.

The bee drone technology, which was explored in season 3 of Black Mirror, could theoretically give Walmart an edge in food production over the long term. 

The decline of honeybees poses a major threat to the world’s food supply. About one-third of the food we consume – fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices – depends on pollination from honeybees, which make up only 2 percent of the total bee population. 

What’s killing the bees is hard to say. But it’s likely been a complex interaction of multiple stressors: Lack of genetic diversity among their populations, a shortage of space for honeybees to roam, parasites and diseases, and pesticides. There’s also colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon where the majority of the worker bees disappear from the colony, though the number of collapses has gone down over the past few years.

Other organizations have already developed or drafted ideas for similar robot bee technologies, including a team at Harvard University, a researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and a student at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. No robot bee technology is currently being used on a large scale, however.

Walmart’s drone technology could boost food production if honeybee populations continue to dwindle in the decades to come. But some experts, like Quinn McFrederick, an entomologist at the University of California, think it’s better to spend resources protecting the real bees we have today.

“On top of more practical arguments, such as costs to smaller farms,” he told NPR, “I would not like to live in a world where bees are replaced by plastic machines. Let's focus on protecting the biodiversity we still have left.”

 

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

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  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Lee Jae-Sung of Korea Republic lies on the pitch holding his knee during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at Kazan Arena on June 27, 2018 in Kazan, Russia.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Technology & Innovation

Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

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