In Brief
Bee populations are dwindling at an alarming rate. A surprising company, Walmart, has filed a patent for autonomous, robot bees which would act as pollinators in agriculture.

Walmart has just filed a patent for autonomous, robot bees. Yes, that Walmart — and no, you didn’t slip into another, stranger dimension. The mega-corporation’s patent specifically covers “pollination drones.” These tiny robots could act just like bees, pollinating crops autonomously.

The robot bees would operate using sensors and cameras to help them navigate to crops. Flying around autonomously, these drones could potentially pollinate as effectively as the real thing.

An artist's representation of what robot bees may look like.
Robot bees could save agriculture while real bee populations dwindle. Image Credit: Polynoid/Greenpeace/Vimeo

Oddly enough, this is not the only farming patent that Walmart has filed recently. According to CB Insights, this is only one of six Walmart patents for farming drones that would do everything from monitor crop damage to spray pesticides. Incorporating autonomous robots into farming could cut costs and increase agriculture efficiency.

The thing that’s so puzzling about this move is: why Walmart?

The retailer hasn’t publicly commented on the patents yet, so the reasons behind Walmart’s sudden interest in farming drones has to be left up to interpretation. Yet since many Walmart locations do carry produce, it’s possible that the company is looking to gain more control of the food it’s selling. Perhaps by taking such a significant role in agriculture, the company will be able to improve quality and cut costs.

This seems like a sound explanation, especially since Walmart has decided to expand its grocery delivery service. According to a patent filed by the company in January, this service will allow shoppers to accept or reject produce. While such a service has potential to rake in serious business for Walmart, it also means they will need to step up the quality of their produce. Hence, potentially, the robo-bees.

Meanwhile, honeybee populations are dying, and we can no longer take pollination for granted. These small creatures are the backbone of agriculture and the food that we eat. While scientists work to better understand declining pollinator populations, and hopefully come up with solutions, these Walmart farming drones could keep agriculture, and fresh produce, alive.