Honeybees are excellent pollinators and a critical part of food production. In fact, 75% percent of global food crops rely to some extent on insect pollination for yield and quality, so the health and survival of bees is vital.
Unfortunately, honeybees are suffering from high mortality rates—up to 40 percent per estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Threats to bees include habitat loss, agrochemicals, pathogens, pests, climate change, and the interactions between them. The multiplier effect of these pressures can lead to the rapid decline and ultimately the failure of entire apiaries. This in turn is stressing pollination capacity which causes price increases for pollination services, resulting in variable colony strength and suboptimal pollination performance.
This is clearly detrimental to farmers who depend on bees for pollination during crop bloom. Traditional practices among farmers and beekeepers involve the use of received wisdom and field experience to determine the health of hives and the number of bees needed for pollination year-to-year. But this can lead to disappointing outcomes. Many farmers are unaware of what happens when hives are placed into orchards, and the consequence of this lack of insight means they may not see the impact of inadequate pollination until their crops are harvested – which is too late.
BeeHero, an Israeli-based AgTech startup, is the brainchild of veteran beekeepers, serial entrepreneurs, renowned biologists, and data scientists who have come together to address this problem. They began with a single question: “Wouldn’t it be good, if…?”
Wouldn’t it be good, if…we knew what was going on inside a hive without having to inspect it manually?
Wouldn’t it be good, if…we knew how many bees we had to put into a crop in order to pollinate that crop in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible?
“Yes,” was the obvious answer. The less obvious question: How? The team at BeeHero understood that a compelling question required equally compelling technology for finding answers. So, they sought out an Internet of Things (IoT) solution to marry traditional beekeeping with modern technology and provide greater insight into the world of bees.
Farmers depend on bees for pollination during crop bloom. But the increased mortality rates of colonies are putting more and more pressure on beekeepers to deliver a reliable supply of healthy bees. Meanwhile, the process of pollination is built on an outdated arrangement that provides no visibility into the outcome for the farmers and no support for the beekeepers in their fight against colony loss. BeeHero is using Silicon Labs hardware to change that.
Critical bee hive parameters, such as temperature, humidity, activity, and acoustic signature, can now be measured wirelessly, enabling beekeepers to build stronger, healthier hives through proactive maintenance and timely intervention, thereby developing the practices needed to reduce colony losses. The technology also powers the BeeHero platform to give farmers real-time visibility into the exact progress of pollination and the true efficacy of the bees they have contracted.
Choosing an IoT Sensor Supplier
Product selection was led by two factors: availability and suitability. Time to market is critical for startup companies, so the typical development time frames could not be followed. Production needed to happen within a quarter of the typical timeframe, so finding a supplier who could quickly source the material and have it available for production was key–not to mention accomplishing this during a supply chain shortage due to the global pandemic. Equally important was having the right material available. The IoT technology needed to match the specifications and requirements chosen by the team.
BeeHero’s chosen supplier was able to deliver on both factors, providing a product fit for both sensor and gateway wireless modules along with sensor-integrated circuitry. The parts chosen included Silicon Labs’ EFR32BG24 Series 2 Bluetooth® Wireless System-on-Chip along with the BGM210P and BGM240P Wireless Bluetooth modules, known for their high performance and low energy consumption.
The Heartbeat of the Bee Hive
Sensor technology enabled by the wireless SoC and Bluetooth modules makes it possible for beekeepers to remotely monitor their hives. The IoT sensors can monitor the critical parameters—temperature, humidity, activity, and acoustics—and then send this data to a cloud-based platform for analysis. The bee’s well-known buzz is the heartbeat of the hive. BeeHero’s data science team uses AI and ML to analyze the acoustic signature and identify patterns and frequencies that can then be correlated with observed hive activity.
With BeeHero, beekeepers have continuous insight into the status of their bees and can make more informed decisions on when to feed, treat, or re-queen a hive. For the first time ever, this accurate sensor data means beekeepers can intervene and possibly prevent the collapse of a weakened colony.
Proactive Maintenance with BeeHero Technology
Large-scale Commercial beekeepers manage several thousand hives spread across multiple yards. Data from the IoT sensors allows them to save time and money on travel by targeting specific areas that require attention. Overall, the efficiency and performance of the hives are improved through IoT-enabled quality control.
While yield can vary tremendously between crops and location, BeeHero has seen as much as a 30 percent improvement with the implementation of its IoT solution.
New Levels of Data Enable Managed Pollination and More
BeeHero has only just scratched the surface. With the adoption of Silicon Labs IoT technology, they can gather even more data to answer such questions as the following:
- Which bees are in the crops?
- How many bees are visiting the flowers?
- How many bees are actually pollinating the crops?
Additionally, the growing dataset will provide better levels of understanding about the causes of CCD and how managed pollination can reduce the impact of climate change.
Bees are remarkably prescient sentinels of the environment. The health of the colony reflects the health of the environment in which they live. By being able to monitor them, the bees in effect become a “reporting and early warning system” on the status of the area around them.
For example, with their IoT solution, beekeepers can monitor nectar flow and track bloom cycles for different bee-friendly flowers, which in turn can be leveraged by farmers to manage the land and improve biodiversity.
BeeHero’s passion for the subject matter plays a major role in their commitment to understanding what the real problems are. By finding ways to improve the lives and livelihoods of beekeepers and farmers, they are playing a vital role in developing managed pollination which ultimately will help ensure the future of the world's food supply.
For BeeHero, as long as they continue to acquire more data, the learning never stops!
BeeHero Uses IoT Sensor Technology to Save Bees
George Clouston, Head of Scientific Strategy at BeeHero, joined Silicon Labs for Works With 2022 where he discussed the ways in which connectivity is being used to help improve the health of bee hives.