How IoT Can Save the Bees

The loss of one of the most important pollinators, the honey bee, is threatening the world's food supply and, of course, the genus Apis. IoT can address these challenges by granting us deep insight into hives before and as problems arise.

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How-IoT-Can-Save-the-Bees

The news is constantly abuzz with the grave issues that all pollinators are facing. 

With bees to thank for 30 percent of our food and an estimated 9.5 billion people to feed by 2050, colony collapse, which is already catastrophic, is accelerating when we’ll need bees more than ever. Thankfully, researchers and innovators worldwide have turned to #agtech and #apitech innovations, many of which make use of IoT, so that we can remain positive about the intertwined future of humans and bees.

An image of a bee colony hive and a honeycomb.

Image Credit: Nathan Seidle, Makezine.com

While winter losses of beehives up to 15 percent are sustainable, the US experienced a 28 percent winter hive loss and a nearly 43 percent total hive loss in 2016. The biggest challenge is that this widespread hive collapse—known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)—doesn’t yet have a single cause. It’s commonly attributed to a variety of factors including diseases like American Foul Brood, parasites such as the Varroa mite, and pesticide use (e.g. neonicotinoids). Due to the mystery that still surrounds the loss of bee hives, it’s more critical than ever before that we leverage technology—specifically, IoT—to gain more insight into the catastrophe in order to reverse it.

The accelerating collapse of #honeybee colonies threatens both global food supply and the Apis genus. #IoT can give us much-needed insight into the problem.|| #IoTForAll @HiveLend #Agtech #Apistech @SAPDigitalInterconnect Click To Tweet

Startups Addressing the Problem

ApisProtect: From Research to Applications

ApisProtect is addressing the problem with their vision to preserve ⅓ of the world’s food supply through hive monitoring technology. They just raised $1.8 million for bee-monitoring sensors that enable beekeepers to prevent losses while tracking both honey and pollination productivity.

ApisProtect was started by Fiona Edwards, who was studying the application of networked sensors to honey bee hives during her Ph.D. In her research and its applications through ApisProtect, data is collected from embedded sensors and aggregated. Machine learning methods are then applied to the raw data from the hives, which derives actionable insights—e.g. “smart alerts” for the beekeepers—from large collections of those data. ApisProtect is also working to increase hive productivity and to reduce the cost of both beekeeping and agriculture through healthier hives.

OSBeehives and their “Buzzbox mini”

OSBeehives has created the Buzzbox mini—an electronic hive health assistant that was originally launched on Kickstarter and depicted in the image below.

An image of OSBeehives' Buzzbox mini being installed in a hive to monitor beehive health.
Image Credit: OS Beehives

This solar-powered box is mounted internally and contains sensors that measure health through humidity, temperature, and audio readings, as well as giving you access to environmental factors like the external temperature, humidity, and wind direction.

OSBeehives’ app includes hive logs for you to track your own observations, harvest, and treatment, as well as the data graphing and audio insights from the Buzzbox itself. The app also comes with access to the social platform “hive snapshots,” which allows you to share with and learn from connected beekeepers around the world.

Big Companies Are on Board As Well

Bayer, the crop science corporation that started the bee care program to promote global insect pollination, has also joined the smart beekeeping movement with their $1 million, multi-year research initiative: Healthy Hives 2020. One aspect of this initiative is a webinar series focused on a digital hive management tool created by Brandon Hopkins, Assistant Professor, Department of Entomology at Washington State University, and Brody Tomazin, Commercial Beekeeper at 2J Honey Farms.

The hive management tool Hopkins and Tomazin are developing allows commercial beekeepers to monitor their hives in real-time, using only their smartphone, an RFID scanner, and RFID tags. This IoT solution lets managers see what management teams are working on, where the hives are, and how healthy those hives are based on data from hive checks. The data provide commercial beekeepers a way to monitor the health of their hives closely, creating the opportunity for a more targeted and scalable treatment of hives for pollination services.

Creative Ideas Being Researched 

Sounds of the Hives

An artist in Brussels, Anne Marie Maes, is sampling sounds through hive embedded piezo-electric microphones. The aim of her work is to recognize the health of the hive by identifying patterns in the audio datasets gleaned from hives.

Big Brother of the Bees

The EyesOnHives system uses cameras to track individual bee movements optically. Using an approach similar to image recognition (or computer vision) systems, it develops day-to-day signatures of bee activities from which changes in hive conditions can be detected early while it’s still possible to remedy the problem. 

RFID Backpacks for Bees

Dr. Paulo de Souza a CSIRO entomologist in Tasmania, is gluing tiny RFID devices to bees in a quest to track generational impacts of pesticide exposure and genetically modified pollen.

Image Credit: CSIRO, Dr. Souza: RFID backpacks for bees

Scratching the Surface of #apitech

We’re only just beginning to see #apistech solutions brought to market; many promising ideas still remain in research and development. The innovations continue with organizations like Bee Corp, Nectar Company, Babelbee, Bee Smart Technologies, and HiveLend. All are bringing IoT—or rather IoBee—to the hives to address the devastating loss of bee colonies. These innovations are helping to preserve the future of these critical pollinators. They’re using IoBee to help ensure the future of both the world’s food supply and our dear honey bees.

Written by Dawn Musil, Co-Founder at HiveLend.