Helping bees to thrive with BeeLab
Helping bees to thrive with BeeLab
Bees are vital for maintaining our planet. They help to pollinate both the crops we use for food and the trees and flowers that provide habitats for lots of other wildlife. However, our bee species are under threat.
According to a 2020 paper in the journal Science, bees are far less common than they were decades ago. In North America alone, you would be nearly 50 percent less likely to see a bee in any given area than you were prior to 1974.
Climate change, disease, pesticides, and other factors – mostly due to human activity - are damaging bee species. But getting to grips with the exact causes and how colonies differ in their responses, and identifying how to best protect and sustain hives, remains difficult.
That’s where BeeLab, a Swedish collaboration between the HSB Living Lab and Tietoevry, the Nordic tech company, comes in. Their innovative approach to monitoring hives using smart sensors could change how we manage bee colonies, and their collection of crucial data will help us comprehend the threats facing bees and why their populations are in decline.
The HSB Living Lab – a collaboration between academic and industry partners - explores the future of sustainable living. Up to 40 students and researchers live in the flats to test innovations and technical solutions that are intended for next-generation housing. The dynamic building is equipped with measuring stations and sensors to provide in-depth data about how each solution can be best deployed to improve quality of life and sustainability.
It’s that ethos that led to the creation of BeeLab.
“My father was a beekeeper, as was my grandfather, and so I naturally took it up as a hobby myself,” says Mikael Ekström, beekeeper and senior digitization advisor at Tietoevry. “I’d spent some 35 years working in IT, and when someone raised the idea of mirroring the HSB Living Lab with mini living labs for bees, complete with sensors and monitoring, it made perfect sense.”
In 2019, HSB Living Lab and Tietoevry launched the BeeLab project.
The plan was to create a network of connected digital beehives that would help beekeepers to look after the bees, and to provide data that would underpin a better understanding of bees’ health and how to take care of them.
The first adapted hive was installed outside the HSB lab with a local beekeeping club brought on board to look after the bees. The initial cluster of sensors – measuring temperature, weight, air pressure, humidity and air quality - were supported by a Raspberry Pi, connected by ethernet cables to relay data.
This real-time data was incredibly useful to the beekeepers. Weight sensors, for example, would let them know when the best time was for extracting honey from the hive rather than manually having to check and disturb the colony. These same sensors can also indicate when a swarm is likely to happen (when the queen bee leaves with some of the bees to find a new hive).
But to create a nationwide picture of what was happening to bee populations, the data needed to be collated from more and more hives and connected through a large-scale platform.
That’s why the sensors were connected to a scalable Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud platform environment. With the help of AI, this data is helping researchers to develop a more in-depth understanding of bee behaviour and the factors that influence it. As more hives are installed, the more complete the picture becomes.
The expansion of the BeeLab project continues. It was awarded SEK 600,000 in funding from the Swedish Board of Agriculture (Jordbruksverket) to widen the network of connected beehives throughout Sweden and install digital hives in all 25 beekeeper districts in the country.
With growing interest in the BeeLab project, and months of development, a second generation of hives was launched. This time the hives were cable-free and battery-powered, communicating data to the cloud via SIM cards.
Saft has supported this second generation of hives with a MP 176065 xlr Rechargeable Li-ion cell solution. It’s ideally suited for the sensors that require consistent high energy outputs across a long operating life. With some of the newly installed hives being deployed north of the Arctic Circle, the cell’s ability to operate at super-low temperatures is a key attribute. Also, in line with the project’s core focus on sustainability, the cells have a smaller environmental footprint than other technologies.
“It’s a project I’m particularly passionate about not only as a beekeeper, but also because it shows how digital solutions and smart sensors can contribute to improving society for both humans and nature,” explains Mikael Ekströn. “It’s a key part of our (Tietoevry) values and a big part of our 2023 Sustainability Game Plan.”
The next step for BeeLab is to launch their mobile app, a digital logbook that will help individual beekeepers and help researchers to collect even more data from the additional hives they hope to have up and running.
“We’re also looking at other things we might be able to measure. It might be that we can use sensors and machine learning to do some advanced sound analysis to explore the differences in sound that a hive makes when under stress or when conditions change. There’s plenty more that we want to learn.”
The world is waking up to the importance of protecting bee species and the work being done by the BeeLab team is paving the way for smart responses to their changing world. The project is proving to be vital for expanding our knowledge base and helping bees to survive, and thrive.