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Interactive Robotics Laboratory
Yu Gu, Professor

Precision Pollination Robot

Sponsor: USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), National Robotics Initiative (NRI)

Pollination services are economically valuable and essential to many crop production systems. Pollinators contribute $24 billion to the U.S. Economy each year and approximately $15 billion of crops in the U.S. rely on pollination by honey bees. The value of the annual global contribution of pollinators exceeds $54 billion. Recent decline of honey bees (i.e., colony collapse disorder) has threatened crop pollination and approximately one-third of beekeepers in the U.S. have suffered from the honey bee loss. In addition, declines of native pollinators including other bees and animals have been reported due to habitat fragmentation and pesticides threatening wild pollinators. Such shortages of pollinators in the U.S. have increased the cost to farmers renting bees for pollination services from $50 in 2003 to $105-$175 per hive in 2009. From both economic and food security points of view, there is an urgent need for current crop growers to seek alternative pollination systems.

Our long-term vision is to have autonomous robots providing precision services, including pollination, insect pest and plant disease scouting, flower thinning, fruit inventory, and overall health statues evaluation to a variety of crops in both field and greenhouse environments. The objective for this project is to design a prototype pollinator robot, and perform proof-of-concept demonstrations of its effectiveness for brambles (i.e. blackberry and raspberry) pollination in a greenhouse environment. We will investigate the detailed mechanisms of pollination between bees and flowers during the development of this bio-inspired robot. During the project, we will develop the ability to precisely locate, evaluate, interact, and manipulate small and delicate plant structures within unstructured, low-dynamic, and GPS-challenged environments, which is an enabling technology for supporting future integrated crop management systems.

Press Release: From Mars to a greenhouse near you: WVU team transitions robot from rover to pollinator

 Cataglyphis, award winning Mars sample robot, pollinating a bush.