IoT Applications for Honey Bee Colony Condition: What's the Buzz All About?

Fiona Edwards Murphy
May 14, 2019

 

Many countries across the world are experiencing extensive honey bee losses. In the USA alone, commercial beekeepers reported losses of 38% of their colonies in 2015-2016. Losses on this scale are dramatically reducing the profitability of beekeeping globally, and driving beekeepers out of the industry, despite the growing demand for honey, pollination, and other honey bee by-products throughout the world.

Contributing $174 billion worth of pollination to the agri-food industry annually, honey bees play an essential role in global food production. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates that 71 of the 100 most important crops, which provide 90 percent of food worldwide, are pollinated by bees.

The development of technology to more efficiently manage honey bee colonies and improve honey bee health will enable commercial beekeepers to reduce global losses and improve the quality of pollination services.

Technological Innovation

Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy has developed a sensor platform, designed to be retrofitted into existing hives. Beekeepers tend to keep their hives in remote locations and a major challenge with instrumenting large-scale beekeeping operations is the vast geographical spread of the colonies themselves. Often located in remote rural areas, depending on Wi-Fi or cellular coverage is rarely feasible. Accumulating data from nodes spread across 10’s of square kilometers and then uploading this data to the cloud in a power efficient manner that does not interfere with the existing work practices of a farm poses a unique set of obstacles to overcome.

Working with satellite data transmission would enable instrumentation of hives at any location on the planet. However, putting a satellite transceiver in every beehive is impractical for many reasons, including cost and power implications. The solution ApisProtect has developed for this challenge is to use a combination of various long-range networks, including satellite, LTE, and LPWAN technologies to connect the various devices throughout a farm. This data stream is then analyzed and the beekeeping insights are sent to the customer in real time.

This solution uses a unique combination of sensors to monitor honey bees in the hive: temperature, humidity, CO2, sound, and acceleration. The data from these five onboard sensors provide the necessary data for machine learning and big data techniques to extract valuable information about hive condition, activities, and productivity levels.

Anticipated Benefits

Smart alerts, with actionable insights, are provided to the beekeeper. These insights detail hive condition, identify problems and suggest actions. Currently, this technology has been deployed to hives across the globe. Ten million honey bees across the USA, Ireland, South Africa, and the UK are now being monitored in specially selected test sites, with a variety of host beekeepers.

Data are being collected from multiple sources including thousands of examples of healthy and weak colonies; inspection reports; and aggregate, anonymized data collected from hives around the globe. These data are used by algorithms to understand each hive and send suggested actions for improved colony health and help beekeepers with the key problems they face every day.

Having access to this insight will help beekeepers identify a wide variety of problems, earlier than they can by using traditional inspections and enable beekeepers to monitor the health of their hives almost continuously, and in-between manual inspections.

A challenge in this area is that periodic manual checks can disturb the colony, are impossible during poor weather, are time-consuming, and require both specialized knowledge and equipment.

Therefore, even the most well-run commercial beekeeping operations will not be able to perform a manual check on a colony more than a couple of times per month. For operators with thousands of hives, manual spot checks can’t hope to catch all the issues. Unfortunately, this can lead to problems within hives being missed before it is too late to resolve.

The key value of this technology is the processed data – a high-level overview of each apiary with a breakdown of which hives are doing well, which ones are likely to experience problems, and which hives need immediate attention providing a 24/7 early warning system to help reduce losses.

Conclusion

This technology helps beekeepers identify which hives (out of thousands) need their immediate attention, and also plan their resource use (time, materials, labor) much more effectively; leading to more productive and effective colonies, and beekeeping operations even in the most remote locations.

 


 

Fiona Edwards MurphyFiona Edwards Murphy is the CEO and co-founder of ApisProtect. She is among the most widely published authors on Internet of Things and honey bees. ApisProtect is an Irish technology company, which specializes in agricultural applications of Internet of Things technology, focusing on beekeeping. Dr. Edwards Murphy's work on the topic of hive monitoring has received many national and international awards from the Irish Research Council, The IEEE, IBM, The Irish Laboratory Awards, Google, and the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Dr. Edwards Murphy completed her Ph.D. with the School of Engineering, and the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University College Cork in the area of Internet of Things applications for honey bee health. To find out more, log on to www.apisprotect.com or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram using @ApisProtect.

 

 


 

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