IoT-enabled beehives to improve hive health and reduce manual inspection

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According to the United States Department of Agriculture, one out of every four bites of food depends on bee pollination, and the US Geological Survey states that 75% of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables produced in the US are pollinated by bees. In Europe, around 84% of plant species and 76% of food production depend on pollination, while the direct value of honey produced in the EU is estimated at €140 million, and the value of insect pollination for European agriculture has been estimated to be approximately €20 billion per year, and €153 billion worldwide.

As critical pollinators, the maintenance of healthy bee colonies is vitally important. Beekeepers currently monitor the status of beehives by performing manual examinations in order to check whether the queen bee is missing or to look for any other potential problems. But not only are manual hive inspections time-consuming, they are also disruptive to the colony.

SAS, a leader in advanced analytics, is now offering IoT-enabled beehives that can stream vital statistics on the fly to help maintain hive health by avoiding unnecessary inspections and providing an early warning system so effective interventions can take place when required.

Vital signs

SAS Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled beehives use streaming analytics to interpret hive data flowing from embedded sensors to help beekeepers better understand which units need help. Hive data is sent to the cloud to allow for the continuous measurement of:

  • Weight: A connected scale sensor tells beekeepers if the hive is producing honey and gaining weight – a sign of a healthy bee activity. If the scale indicates weight loss in one hive compared to its neighbour, beekeepers can intervene;
  • Temperature and humidity: An ideal climate inside the hive creates baby bees and keeps the queen warm enough to survive the winter. Honeybees regulate hive temperature and humidity by moving, flapping and clustering. Internal sensors collect temperature and humidity data then analyze it to alert beekeepers about concerning fluctuations;
  • Acoustics: The hum of honeybees buzzing indicates health, stress, swarming, and the condition of the queen. SAS hives monitor audio data continuously and use machine learning models to listen for anomalies. These audio clips help illustrate the difference between a healthy hive and an endangered hive;
  • Flight activity: Bees flying in and out of a hive indicates foraging activity, a sign the hive is healthy. Applying computer vision technology to the bees’ flight patterns helps beekeepers understand when the hive is happy or in trouble.

“SAS’ passion for innovation and sustainability helped us find technology solutions to better understand the health of beehives,” said Sarah Myers, agtech marketing manager at SAS. “I’m an avid beekeeper, and it’s exciting to work with a group of data scientists who want find new ways to support this critical global effort.”

To discover more about how IoT technologies can protect honeybees, check out this paper from the SAS Global Forum 2020.

European effort

Across the Atlantic, IoBee, an EU-funded project that aims to disrupt the beekeeping market by providing practical, timely and easy-to-use monitoring systems, is also applying IoT technology to automatically evaluate the health of bee colonies and assess any threats.

An interdisciplinary effort that began in November 2017 with partners from different countries of the European Union, IoBee has seen private firms, academia and Non-governmental organisations work together to develop and improve bee monitoring solutions in three key areas: in-hive, in-field and satellite imaging.

The project has also pioneered an open and integrative platform to gather, process and communicate on pollinator-related data, named The Bee Hub.

Keeping count
IoBee’s main development in in-hive monitoring has been the improvement and testing of the bee counter, a monitoring system installed at the entrance of the hive that allows beekeepers to monitor bees in real time. The bee counter tracks incoming and exiting traffic, providing valuable information for assessing the health of the colony. The beekeeper can then evaluate the strength of the foraging force, determine mortality rates in the field and identify deviations in flight duration and nectar availability. The bee counter sends collected data to a cloud server via a cellular network, before it is automatically processed and presented in a user-friendly way. Beekeepers can access the information at any time from their internet-connected devices (smartphone, tablet, computer) and foresee which actions they should take next. 
IoBee has also developed an e-gate, a sensor that identifies insects entering and exiting the colony by colour detection. The e-gate works with RGB colour-code balance. It can determine if the hive is receiving some unexpected guests, such as pests.

To improve observations of conditions beyond the hive, IoBee has developed an optoelectronic sensor that automatically provides insect count and identifies different species in the area. An in-field digital sensor measures the diversity and density of pollinators in the field. Monitoring pollinator availability is essential, considering the importance of not only managed but also wild pollinators for healthy ecosystems and agricultural production.

The sensor is a new user and insect-friendly response to the challenges of traditional traps used to count pollinator density and diversity. It identifies flying insects without disturbing them, negating the need to trap, kill, or manually count them. As insects fly through, the sensor automatically identifies their flight pattern and matches it with a species in the database.

The sensor is also able to detect plagues that affect bees, such as the Vespa Velutina or Asian hornet. This invasive species has become a challenge for bees and beekeepers. It continues to spread around Europe, meriting further attention and new detection systems. The sensor allows for early detection, which improves the chance for effective responses from individuals, associations and authorities.

Satellite Imagery

Both IoBee’s in and off hive sensors work in synergy with satellite imaging and the application of Special Decision Support Systems. Applying a predictive model to data recovered by satellite imaging, IoBee claims it is now possible to provide a more extensive tool to understand the environmental conditions of bees and determine the surrounding land use of a location. The beekeeper, association or other users can find out if a site is, for instance, surrounded by monocultures. Users can also discover the land cover types, whether this is, for example, grassland, forest, bare ground, or others.

Finally, this tool provides users with historical data on phenology as well as a predictive model, enabling them to determine the availability of resources such as pollen or nectar, which directly influences the overall well-being of bees.

IoBee has now concluded its activities, which have greatly benefited from the constant feedback and cooperation of European beekeepers. “We need bees for the future, and innovation is becoming essential to ensure their protection,” said a statement on its website. “IoBee is now concluding after significant efforts to integrate different solutions to achieve a better future for bees, for the environment, and ourselves, a reality.”

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With over 20 years experience in editorial management and content creation for a broad spectrum of market-leading B2B magazines and websites in the transport and technology sectors, Anthony has written news and features covering everything from airport security to autonomous vehicles, and stadium design to sustainable energy.

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