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Using smart sensors to monitor a hive reveals when bee colonies are in trouble

Technology tracks ‘bee talk’ to help improve honeybee health
“What is this? A center for ants?” rages Derek Zoolander in one of the funniest and most quotable scenes of the original 2001 comedy Zoolander. Over at Canada’s Simon Fraser University, graduate student Oldooz Pooyanfar hasn’t exactly built a center for ants, but rather a smart home for bees — which we reckon is every bit as cool. What Pooyanfar has built is a smart hive real-time monitoring system, intended to keep tabs on what thousands of bees in a series of hives are “saying” to one another.

This high-tech monitoring platform is placed along the wall of the hive she wants to analyze. It is fitted with a number of tiny sensors that are equipped with microphones (and, in the future, accelerometers, too) to monitor sound and vibration. The monitoring platform also keeps tabs on temperature and humidity using heat sensors. The smart system collects all of this data and then analyzes it looking for abnormalities, such as possible sickness or the death of the queen. If abnormalities are found, beekeepers are alerted so that they can instantly respond.

It is a more efficient, less intrusive way of monitoring large quantities of bees, whose activities can be severely disrupted for up to 24 hours every single time a hive is opened by beekeepers.

Simon Fraser University
Simon Fraser University

The project was set up as a response to the mysterious decline of bees in the United States. Over the past decade, the North American honey bee population has fallen by 30 percent. Research continues into the so-called “Colony Collapse Disorder,” although no definitive conclusions have yet been reached. Should populations continue to decline, it is imperative that an explanation (and solution) is discovered since fewer bees mean a major impact on both crop pollination and the environment as a whole.

It is this research Pooyanfar, a graduate student in SFU’s School of Mechatronics Systems Engineering, hopes to be able to contribute to. On a macro scale, her smart hive-monitoring project could represent another smart-tech solution to help scientists understand one of the biggest mysteries currently facing the insect kingdom. On a micro scale, it will hopefully turn out to be an incredibly valuable tool for individual beekeepers.

After all, we are not yet at the point where we’re able to replace honey bees with bee robots. And who knows when we will be?

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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