One of the most important links in the chain that leads to the production of, among others, apples, blueberries, melons and broccoli, is the honeybee. The insect plays the crucial role of pollination, enabling plants to breed and grow.

The fact that they’re dying all over the world at an alarming rate, raising fears of extinction, has prompted researchers to look for alternatives. A team at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan, for instance, has come up with a remote-controlled pollinator.

It’s a miniature drone equipped with a sticky gel. This device isn’t exactly meant to replace the natural pollinators, but simply to offer assistance.

Elswwhere, industrial design student Anna Haldewang of the Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, has created Plan Bee. Hers is a personal robotic bee, controlled by a smart device and made to mimic the way bees pollinate flowers and crops.

“I had no idea about the danger to honeybee colonies and that bees were disappearing,” she said. A professor challenged her to design a self-sustainable product that helps plants grow.

Her lightweight device has a plastic shell body and a pair of propellers to keep it air-borne. Victor Ermoli, dean of the school of design, believes that it has great potential. He said, “It could conceivably be used in large-scale farming, even in hydroponic farming.”