The buzz behind the artificial pollinators of tomorrow

A technology solutions provider is aiming to boost urban farming and enhance food security by building technologies that improve productivity in agriculture

Siddharth Jadhav loves to read. The 28-year-old founder of technology solutions provider Polybee shares, “It’s very likely that at any point in time, I’m thinking about things and trying to understand how they work.”  His eyes gleam as he explains how he started reading more about molecular biology during the onset of the pandemic to learn more about how viruses and infections spread. So, it comes as no surprise that the inspiration behind Polybee’s key idea – using autonomous drones for indoor pollination – also began from a book.

Working as an Associate Scientist at Temasek Laboratories in the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2018, Siddharth researched drones – spanning research areas such as aerodynamics, control systems, system integration, and more. At the same time, he was reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, which sparked his curiosity about the agriculture industry. “I realized there’s so little that I know about the food that comes to my plate,” Siddharth remarks.

As Siddharth explored this space further, he discovered vertical farming. Companies that make use of vertical farming typically struggle to use natural pollination to grow food crops like strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and more. Typically, natural pollination is carried out with the help of bumblebees. However, bumblebees are native only to a few regions in the world. In regions without native bumblebees, like Southeast Asia and Australia, pollination must be done manually.

“It wasn't very intuitive to me that you couldn’t use natural pollinators that easily in a fully-controlled setting. So, I started reaching out to a lot of these indoor vertical farming companies within Singapore, and overseas in the US and in Japan. I was sending these cold emails saying we have a hunch that we could solve this problem with drones.”

Polybee, founded in September 2019, has two main types of drone platforms: small, palm-sized drones are used to navigate the tight spaces in fully-indoor vertical farming environments, while slightly larger drones are used in greenhouses where space constraints are not as limited. The drones are planned to be fully autonomous to eliminate inconsistencies and labor cost. They are also designed to be efficient and precise, able to effectively pollinate hundreds of thousands of flowers every day, thereby significantly boosting productivity in a cost-effective way.

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