All around the world, bee colonies are dying out, and bumblebees are now listed as endangered in the U.S. But to help the little guys out, Japanese researchers announced in a study published Thursday that they’ve created tiny drones that can do some of the pollination work that bees typically do. The 1.5-inch remote-controlled artificial pollinators do quick fly-bys of flowers and both collect and distribute pollen to the buds, similar to what bees do when they collect and scatter nectar.
While bees use tiny hairs all over their bodies to gather and transport pollen, the drones use a gel that chemists developed at Japan’s National Institute of Industrial Science and Technology. The researchers hope that eventually they’ll be able to program the drones to fly through fields and pollinate plants sans-remote control, hopefully helping to ease the burden of global colony die-off.