When it comes to robotics, it is often inspired by the natural world. But what about combining technology with nature itself? Engineers have developed a sensing system that essentially turns bumblebees into living drones.

A team from The University of Washington glued removable mini “backpacks” onto bees. The backpacks, which are equipped with sensors that monitor temperature, humidity, and light intensity in addition to tracking their location, weigh only 102 milligrams each, approximately the same as seven grains of uncooked rice. 

The packs are powered by a small rechargeable battery that lasts for seven hours and charges wirelessly while the bees are in their hive at night. While the bees rest, the backpack can upload its data via a method known as backscatter, which lets devices share information by reflecting radio waves transmitted from a closeby antenna.

In other news, astronomers have classified almost 4,000 exoplanets in orbit around distant stars. Finding  these exoplanets has taught us many lessons but there is still much we don’t know about the birth of planets and the precise way they spawn the wide variety of planetary bodies we have already found, including so-called hot Jupiters, massive rocky worlds, icy dwarf planets, and -- hopefully someday soon -- distant analogs of Earth. 

To help answer these and other fascinating questions, a team of UNLV and international astronomers has performed the first large-sample, high-resolution survey of protoplanetary disks, the belts of dust and gas around young stars.

With the powerful Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope, researchers have received stunning, high-resolution photos of 20 nearby protoplanetary disks that have provided astronomers with new insights into the variety of features they hold and the speed with which planets can emerge.

Lastly, on December 3, 2018, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at Bennu the asteroid. On December 10, NASA stated that the spacecraft has already made an intriguing discovery. It has found hydrated minerals on the surface of Bennu, evidence for previous (ancient) water on this asteroid.

However, that doesn’t mean Bennu currently has liquid water inside or on its surface. Instead, it demonstrates that Bennu’s parent body, most likely a much more massive asteroid than Bennu that broke off many, many years ago, did have water.

OSIRIS-REx marks NASA’s first asteroid sample-return mission, which will gather samples of the surface regolith and send them back to Earth for further examination.

What do you think about combining technology with nature itself? Do you think the bee backpacks are a good idea? Why?

Let us know in the comments below!