Fancy fabricating your own beehive in 30 minutes? A buzzy giant hive of makers and beekeepers have come together in a massive citizen science experiment so that you can.
Now anyone can make their own ‘smart’ beehive and discover what makes a healthy bee colony thrive. With OSBeehives sensors you can track colony health, pick up signals from bee behaviour, share beekeeping knowledge and promote an international scientific effort to understand more about bee behaviour by joining the global and open network.
It is well known that our friends the bees keep ecosystems connected by transporting pollen between plants. Bees provide important ecosystem services in many habitats and are vital to the successful pollination that gives us more than a third of the food crops we humans eat. Yet we still know so little about bees’ behaviours and have a lot to learn about how best to care for them.
Over the last decade, research has shown us that bee colonies in industrialised areas were collapsing at an unprecedented rate. The reasons for Colony Collapse Disorder: the combined stresses put on bees by pesticides, parasites, loss of diverse habitat, industrial beekeeping and malnutrition. In more recent years, an invasive species of wasp called Velutina has also had a huge and detrimental impact on the European honey bee.
In 2013 three friends – Jonathan Minchin, Tristan Copley Smith and Aaron Makaruk – came together with a team of technologists from the US, Spain and the UK to try to understand what can be done for bees by providing assistance and best practices for beekeepers. Their crowdsourced OSBeehives uses sensor-enhanced beehives and data science to study honeybee colonies throughout the world. (The OS stands for open source.) The sensor device even helps the domesticated insects to ‘bee’ happier.
“It is not enough that we increase the number of colonies out there, we must learn to be better beekeepers too,” explains Jonathan Minchin. ” By listening to the bees and learning about their behaviour, we can respond more appropriately and in a connected way to the stresses and threats.”
With designs that are freely downloadable, both the Colorado Top Bar Beehive and Barcelona Warré Beehive can be cut from any wood board using a CNC router machine (a computer-controlled wood cutting machine) and snapped and slotted together without needing things like screws or glue. They are designed around natural beekeeping methods, which reduce exposure to artificial materials and lower stress factors on the colony. The designs are open to adapt and customise, meaning that they can be tailored to respond to regional differences and requirements.
The hive is then coupled with the BuzzBox Mini sensor system, which monitors a variety of honey bee health indicators including audio, temperature, humidity, geolocation, weather patterns, and theft detection. The small sensor is easy to set up and “looks cool” thanks to a bunch of hardware and software feedback from the community.
Data can be uploaded directly to a phone via the OSBeehives mobile app – which is free, and useful on its own without requiring the sensor – allowing the monitoring of bees in real-time. Even without a BuzzBox, you can assess the health of your bees by recording them with your phone’s mic.
From this audio data, we are able to look for patterns and signatures in the audio data. It is directly learning the sounds of the bees. Most of the more recent work for OSBeehives has been led by data scientist Javier Andres who has developed the health monitoring artificial intelligence that can analyse audio signatures. We can now identify if a colony is Queenless or if it is about to swarm, and also make increasingly accurate estimates of the weight and population.
There are currently around 1,500 active BuzzBox users and 10,000 app users through 40 countries. “We know of more than 2800 hive file downloads and have documented 100 hive builds in over 20 countries,” Jonathan adds. Of course, this number just includes the ones that OSBeehives knows of.
Next, OSBeehives are releasing a ‘knowledge base’ that provides targeted information to beekeepers, based on their questions and the circumstances of their hives. This is a growing open-source database of best practices and a network for practical beekeeping actions.
The Hive Snapshots app feature allows beekeepers to share information and ask questions about problems, using snapshots of the data that their sensors have generated. “We hope this will allow a smooth and helpful exchange of knowledge between beekeepers all over the world, to share techniques and solutions to the issues they face,” he explains. “Beekeeping is complicated, so we think this could prove super helpful.”
“The planet needs all hands on deck, especially the hands connected to brilliant minds, to start building a future that will allow our children, our species, to continue to thrive on this planet. Part of this process is allowing other creatures, like bees, to also thrive.”
Jonathan Minchin, Tristan Copley Smith and Aaron Makaruk
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