Robotic bees

  • © argentum

    Researchers from Northeastern University are working to develop robotic bees. Steps have been taken to develop both the hardware for miniature flying robots (e.g. microchips, fuels cells and transmitters), and the software to simultaneously manage large numbers of robotic bees. The aim of these advancements is to mimic natural swarm behaviour. The research also aims to develop an artificial beehive, which would be used as a refuelling station.

  •  The robotic swarm was initially developed to gather evidence about the conservation and husbandry of insect populations and more ambitiously for pollination.
  •  The advancements made have led to the development of new manufacturing techniques and flying micro-robots.

A number of new applications have arisen for the micro-robot ranging from traffic monitoring to search and rescue, and hazardous environment exploration. A benefit of this technology may be more advanced gathering of data supporting species conservation. However, some may perceive this as a technological advancement that solves the conservation issue via replacement. Like any new technology, care may need to be taken in communicating its application, benefits and risks.

Posted in Science, Technology and Innovation | Leave a comment

The microchip that can control your appetite

  • Researchers at Imperial College London are working on development of a microchip that, when implanted in the body, will help to fight obesity by reducing hunger.

    © Is it Science or Art?

  • The ‘intelligent’ microchip (a few millimeters in size) is attached to the vagus nerve in the abdomen. The device reacts to electrical and chemical signals and communicates with the brain to suppress appetite. The device will be sensitive enough to control the urge to eat without eliminating the desire. Proof of concept has already been demonstrated in laboratory trials.
  • This technology may reduce the need for expensive and potentially risky gastric band surgery and more importantly, is reversible.

Human trials are expected to take place within the next three years. Aside from the potential to reduce obesity related illness this development may play a role in reducing food consumption and demand in the western world with implications for global food security.

BBC News:, EnteroMedics:

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Sugar addiction

  • ©

    A recently published book ‘Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar’ by Dr Robert Lustig highlights the widespread practice of adding sugar to food and drink products and the role sugar is playing in the obesity epidemic. It has been suggested that sugar may be equally as damaging to human health as fat and perhaps worse.

  • Sugar is said to be addictive and many food producers take advantage of this element by including it in a number of their products.
  • Excess sugar in a diet may lead to disease so although there is no need to eliminate it from the diet entirely there is a need to reduce consumption to ‘healthy’ levels and for us to wean ourselves off what has become a ubiquitous element of our diets.

Obesity has a tremendous impact on the wellbeing of individuals and puts considerable strain on the UK health system. Understanding the key drivers of obesity may better inform decisions about food labelling, production and consumption. This knowledge may also be useful for better informing public health campaigns that aim to raise awareness about issues like obesity.

Circulation:, The Guardian:, Book: ‘Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar’ by Dr Robert Lustig.

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Cyclonomics – bicycles and business

  • Studies show that retail sales are up for shops located on busy cycling routes. In New York, stores near protected bike lanes have had a 49% increase in sales.

    © jon

  • Biking changes the way people shop, for example, parking becomes easier for cyclists as compared to car drivers. Furthermore, a higher density of bicycles can be parked than cars, which may lead to a higher density of shopper in any given area. Although bikers spend less money on each visit, the total expenditure over a month is higher than that for drivers.
  • Cycling also boosts tourism, which provides secondary benefits by way of holidaymakers who spend money on food, beverages, accommodation and of course, bike repairs.

This information supports the formation of new cycle-friendly infrastructure (particularly protected bike lanes) in cities to achieve economic and social (fitness and wellbeing) benefits.

CoExist:, New York City Department of Transport: http://

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Offshore business start-up

  • Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have a novel plan to start up an offshore facility to house start-up companies.

    © Wayne

  • The facility ‘Blue seed’ would be positioned 12 nautical miles from shore (technically outside of US borders) to avoid the need for visas. The facility would be a floating business incubator, being close enough to Silicon Valley to allow for travel for critical face to face meetings to take place.
  • It is envisaged that people would live at the facility for 6 to 9 months to determine whether their start-up company is likely to gain traction before going through the effort of applying for US visas.
  • The owners of Blueseed will profit by gaining a 6% share in any businesses to emerge from the facility and may have some level of control over the number of foreign entrepreneurs that can access the US market.

The initiative has had a warm reception from the US government. If a similar venture were to come to the UK there may be social disapproval concerning the provision of a mechanism to improve an entrepreneur’s chance of success during official visa processes. There may also be environmental impacts resulting from offshore facilities.

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Tracking biodiversity with flesh-eating flies

  • Flesh-eating carrion flies have recently been used by German scientists to provide DNA samples, allowing rapid resource efficient determination of mammalian biodiversity in an area. This is particularly useful for very rare mammal species that are difficult to locate using human- based systems.
  • DNA is extracted from


    the flies and in this way the flies last blood meal provides a snapshot of local mammalian biodiversity.

  • An additional benefit of carrion flies is the ability to capture and sample large numbers of flies by baiting them with meat.
  • Although the technique cannot provide an exhaustive list of species in an area or the number of animals, it may be a useful first step to gauge mammalian biodiversity in a region and perhaps identify the presence of rare or endangered mammals.

DNA analysis is becoming ever faster, cheaper and more accurate and utilising naturally collected field samples would make data collection even more efficient and boost the number of samples available for processing. Although carrion flies are not present in the UK, this development highlights the power of lateral thinking and perhaps other insects (e.g. mosquitoes) could provide the same type of samples here, aiding otherwise difficult data collection.

Posted in Climate, Environment and Biodiversity | Leave a comment

Do green spaces reduce crime?

  • © Ulf

    There has been a long held belief that trees and bushes allow offenders to hide and ambush victims as well as aiding an escape, effectively facilitating crime. Contrary to common belief, well maintained plantings and urban greening have been found to lower the rates of certain types of crime such as robbery and aggravated assault.

  • A study in Philadelphia found that the presence of managed vegetation is associated with reduced crime rates. Researchers analysed satellite imagery and crime data, taking into account important socioeconomic factors: population density, poverty levels and educational attainment.
  • The authors suggest that well-maintained green spaces are calming, encourage social gathering, have better community supervision, and ultimately suppress crime.

This piece of evidence is counterintuitive and contradicts established ideas around town planning, vegetation and crime. This is another of the many benefits of urban vegetation, including reducing run-off, pollution and noise, providing habitat for wildlife and being aesthetically pleasing. The finding may change the way that urban areas are designed to include more well-maintained green space in line with Defra’s ‘protecting and enhancing our urban and natural environment to improve public health and wellbeing’ policy.

Landscape and Urban Planning:, Environmental News Network:

Posted in Demographics and Urbanisation | Leave a comment