Two scientists from the UK and the US have been jointly awarded £640,000 (approximately €767,981) to build tiny robots that would stimulate the buzzing of bees.

It is hoped that understanding the buzz, and how it is created, could improve agriculture and help to understand the evolution of different types of bees and flowers.

Thousands of plants, including tomatoes, potatoes and blueberries, depend on the vibration from bees to elicit full pollen release.

Approximately half of all bee species use this type of vibration pollination; the honey bee is incapable of this.


Evolutionary biologist Dr. Mario Vallejo-Marin, of the University of Stirling, will work with electrical engineer Dr. Noah Jafferis, of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, to create these tiny robots.

Dr. Vallejo-Marin, associate professor in Biological and Environmental Sciences commented: “There are around 20,000 species of bee in the world, yet we know little about the function of most bee species, as we usually only think about honeybees and bumblebees.

"Bumblebees can buzz pollinate but honeybees cannot, and we don’t know much about thousands of other bees.

“A bee’s buzz shakes the pollen out of the flower but, until now, the only way to recreate that process has been with a mechanical shaker weighing 2-3kg. Our project transforms heavy shakers into tiny robots that more closely resemble a bee buzzing a flower.

"This will help us study how the bee’s characteristics affect the buzz and what types of vibrations are most effective for pollination.

“These microrobots are the size of your fingernail and weigh a quarter of a honeybee.

A preliminary prototype of the robotic bee

"They will allow us to control the vibrations – their pitch, force, and timing – and simulate bees’ interactions with flowers in order to really understand how the characteristics of the bee and the buzzes affect pollination.”