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article imageWalmart files for six patents related to the use of farm drones

By Karen Graham     Mar 15, 2018 in Technology
Walmart has taken the first step in ensuring foods such as apples, pumpkins and almonds remain on shelves in the event of a bee extinction.
Bees and other insect pollinators have had a difficult time adapting to our new Anthropocene world. Not only is climate change having an impact on the globe's pollinators-at-large, but certain pesticides have been killing the bees by the millions.
And there has been a great concern, not just by environmentalists, but by those in agriculture, over the decrease in pollinators, particularly bees, because they pollinate 70 percent of the food that we eat - from apples and broccoli to coffee beans and chocolate. Bees also pollinate alfalfa, one of the main crops on which dairy cows feed, meaning that foods like milk, cheese, and ice cream would also be at risk.
Now it has been learned that Walmart has filed six patents related to the use of drones in agriculture. And with the market for agricultural drones expected to top $1 billion by 2024, it looks like Walmart is ensuring it has a place in the new technology.
There are some 20 000 species of bees responsible for fertilising more than 90 percent of the world&...
There are some 20,000 species of bees responsible for fertilising more than 90 percent of the world's 107 major crops
Roland Weihrauch, DPA/AFP/File
According to Fast Company, " Some analysts told Reuters they think this could be a way for Walmart to compete with the Amazon-owned Whole Foods and appeal to a more urban, higher-income demographic that is into this sort of thing."
Pollination drones at the top of the list
Among the six patents filed by Walmart is a patent for an autonomous bee, technically called a "pollination drone." These robots will be used in place of real bees to carry pollen from one plant to another, relying on cameras and other sensors to identify crops and their flowers.
The robot bees would also have "sticky-bristles" capable of extracting pollen from one flower and transporting it to another flower for pollination. “In recent years, the amount of pollinators (e.g. ants, bees, beetles, butterflies wasps, etc.) has been in steady decline, which leads to reduced fertility and biodiversity of the crops and reduced crop production,” the patent reads.
The first national study to map US wild bees suggests they re disappearing in many of the country s ...
The first national study to map US wild bees suggests they're disappearing in many of the country's most important farmlands. Relatively low abundances are shown here in yellow; higher abundances in blue.
University of Vermont
“While there have been attempts to fertilize crops by pollinating the crops via crop dusting, blanket spraying of pollen onto crops from an airplane flying above ground is non-targeted, and a significant percentage of the pollen may not reach its intended targeted crops due to the speed of the moving airplane and intervening wind,” the statement continued.
Other patents submitted by Walmart include one for machine learning to try to track pests as well as monitor crop health. The drones would then be able to spray pesticides and fly by birds to scare them away. However, as Reuters notes, Walmart applies for dozens of patents every year and many do not result in commercial products.
More about Walmart, agricultural drones, bee pollination, food supply chain, Pesticides
 
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