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Aug 31st 2018

The Buzz in IoT Tech to Save Bees

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We need bees; they’re major pollinators for just about every crop we depend on and without them, one-third of our foods would disappear, according to the BBC. Beekeepers and scientists all over the world have been sounding the alarm for declining numbers for over a decade. While the exact cause isn’t yet known, protective measures and Internet of Things (IoT) technology could help save bees.

Cumulative Stressors Kill Bees

Declining bee populations, domestic and wild, have been on the radar since the late ’90s, though researchers couldn’t pinpoint exactly why. There are several potential causes — climate change, reductions in bee-friendly plant food sources, rise in pesticide use and harmful mite infestations — that studies show to affect bee health, said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The organization advises beekeepers that all these factors may contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder and hive loss. While singly these factors may only weaken bee health, adding all these stressors together has enough cumulative impact to kill the insects.

Action to Save Bees

Agencies, individuals and governments have taken action to save bees — for example, through limiting or banning pesticides and encouraging planting crops that bees use for food. National Geographic reported that the European Union will ban neonicotinoid pesticides, or neonics, heavily implicated in bee deaths, by the end of 2018.

Along with other measures under research including probiotics and bee-friendly planting (the University of Georgia suggests creating bee pastures), IoT technology could also help.

IoT Technology to the Rescue

Domestic beekeeping, or apiculture, ranges from a solo enthusiast with a hive or two to commercial ventures that assist crop pollination. Acting quickly when a hive is in trouble helps save bees. Usually this means regular hive visits and a degree of disruption to daily bee life; IoT technology with remote sensing offers beekeepers fast updates in real time from a distance.

Remote Hive Monitoring Eavesdrops on Bees

Various smartphone-enabled apps connected with in-hive sensors give beekeepers instant updates on temperature and humidity, which, in turn, indicate bee activity and health. Companies such as SolutionBee explain how remote monitoring assesses factors such as hive weight and local weather as early alerts in order to show food scarcity or conditions that hinder foraging behavior.

Listening to the buzz can also indicate the health of a hive. Oldooz Pooyanfar, a Simon Fraser University researcher, uses microphones to listen in on beehives. Adding accelerometers as part of the smart sensor package also captures vibrations, supplementing temperature and humidity data for a broad overview of bee health. Artist Anne Marie Maes gathers hive audio from her bees. Using piezo contact microphones, Maes looks for patterns of communication among bees that signal health and activity.

Another sensing opportunity involves smell; distinctive odors might signal bee ill health, and this could be exploited using an electronic nose, according to The Conversation.

Follow the Bees

Since bees return to their hives regularly throughout the day, it is possible to collect flight data from the insects as they fly in and out. The BBC reported about researchers in Manchester, England, fixing tiny RFID backpacks to honeybees that download flight and location data to sensors back at the hive home base. This data lets scientists know how far and where bees fly to gather food.

Remote Healthcare for Bees

Efforts to save bees include reducing or eliminating mite burdens in the hive, as mite infestations distress bees and negatively affect hive health. One pesticide-free solution under trial is the Eltopia MiteNot system, a remote-sensing hive insert that monitors bee activity. Through remote sensing, the IoT-enabled frame can tell when conditions are right so that the system delivers a blast of heat just before the honeycomb brood cells are capped; this stops male mites from fertilizing mite eggs on the bee larvae.

A digital beehive and IoT technology might be just the answer to save bees and crop pollination; the alternative — robotic bees — might not be the answer we’re looking for.

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