Several years ago, we had the chance to talk to Rich Morris, the founder of Broodminder, a start-up company based in Madison, Wisconsin. Rich created a rugged IoT device to help backyard beekeepers raise more healthy bee hives.
As evidenced by numerous studies over recent years, bee populations have been on the decline for the past two decades. As pollinators of numerous crops, honeybees are averaging more than 33 percent population loss per year. Most experts conclude the loss is caused by a variety of factors, including pesticides, habitat loss, and disease.
Three years ago, Rich took matters into his own hands and raised nearly $30,000 to start his company with an Indiegogo campaign. An avid beekeeper and electrical engineer for more than three decades, Rich created a temperature and humidity measuring system using the Silicon Labs BLE113 Bluetooth Smart Module to measure the overall health of a hive. The following year they added a smart hive scale to the mix.
Hive temperature is critical – a healthy hive where bees are brooding generally maintains a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature variates much in either direction, it typically signifies there is something wrong with the queen. Monitoring bee hives using Broodminder’s IoT technology makes it possible for beekeepers to keep tabs on the bees without disrupting brooding (larvae and bee development) or honey production. If the temperature data reflects problems, the beekeeper can intervene by replacing the queen, add more bees, or whatever else is required to maintain a healthy hive. The device also alerts beekeepers when the honey-flow process starts, creating a mechanism where they can begin servicing the hives for honey at the appropriate time.
Up until this point, if a beekeeper needed to obtain this data, they had to open and/or take apart the hive, which disrupted the brooding and honey-making process, and posed a risk to the hives’ bee and honey yields.
New Hive Monitor, Half the Cost
Broodminder has sold close to 6,000, $65 internal temperature hive monitors and 3,000, $179 hive scales, enabling thousands of beekeepers to improve the brooding process without dismantling the hive.
This month, Broodminder is launching a new version of the product focused exclusively on temperature measurement at half the price of the original. Broodminder built the new product using the Silicon Labs Blue Gecko BGM11S SiP Bluetooth module, which Rich explained was crucial in allowing the product to be built more cost-effectively thanks to the SiP’s size, price point, and ease of use. Cost is especially important because Broodminder’s manufacturing is entirely local and the company only uses components from the Madison area.
Beekeepers Unite in the Cloud
One of the key benefits of the Broodminder device is it connects to smart devices via Bluetooth, so users can quickly acquire data from their hives and publish the data to the cloud, creating a public database of hive diagnostics. Data is sent to the cloud by either the beekeeper’s cell phone or a dedicated hub created using the Silicon Labs Bluegiga BLE121 module, helping beekeepers track, maintain, and improve the health of bee populations.
Rich said his team is now just starting to find important data patterns among hive owners in the cloud, and he’s optimistic about the future. He says citizen scientist backyard beekeepers are generating and sharing increasing amounts of data at their public domain site BeeCounted.org, and he believes the next step for beekeeping cloud data will be applying AI technology to improve hive outcomes.
Regardless of the future, Broodminder has already made an impact in improving hive habitats, and it’s exciting for Silicon Labs to see our technology applied to environmental conservation.