Drones are increasingly being used to get a view on our world from above. While exciting technology, because of power limitations, these craft are normally limited to 10–20 minutes, or maybe a half hour, of flight time. This rules out most types of long-term observation, but engineers at the University of Washington have a new take on things, equipping bumblebees with tiny sensor backpacks that collect information as they go about their day.
Outfitting bees in such a way eliminates the power needed — or at least shifts it to the tiny creatures — to keep the sensor package in the air. This meant an extreme feat of miniaturization was needed for these little beasts to be able to carry it. The sensor package that researchers came up with weighs only 102 milligrams, or about the weight of seven grains of uncooked rice. Of this, 70 milligrams was the weight of the battery, leaving just over 30 milligrams — or around two grains of rice if you prefer that measurement unit— for data collection.
Sensors include temperature, humidity, and light intensity; and location is tracked via a series of radio beacons arranged around the bees’ expected flight paths. When the bees return to their hive, collected data is uploaded using backscatter communication and the onboard battery is charged wirelessly.
[h/t: IEEE Spectrum]