We have smart phones, smart cars and even smart fridges. Now, Allan Campbell is preparing to launch the smart beehive.
“We are still in the prototype phase, but we hope to have the first ones out this summer. So far it hasn’t left the lab yet,” said the co-owner of Durston Honey Farms and president of the Manitoba Beekeepers Association.
“What it is, is a network of sensors that is built right into the honeycomb, so the plan is to 3D print the comb with these sensors embedded in it, then they will go into the hives,” he explained.
The sensors will track hive health, population, temperature, disease presence and more. Even the temperature of the frame can be controlled using the system, which could help bees overwinter more successfully by providing supplementary heat during exceptionally cold periods.
“Also, the big parasite that we have is the varroa mite and it is perishable at a lower temperature than what bees can survive,” Campbell said.” So with these implants or whatever you want to call them — which are actually embedded behind each cell or between a pocket of cells — we could, once varroa is detected, turn up the heat in that exact location and kill off the mite with very little collateral damage.”
Varroa mites generally can’t survive beyond 37 C, while honeybees can withstand temperatures as high as 45 C.
“If it works as well as we are hoping for it to, it would have a huge impact,” said Campbell. “The mite is a pretty diabolical little creature.”
He said female varroa mites enter a honeycomb cell having already mated, then hatch three females and a male, which will mate again before the honeybee even matures.
“They just outbreed the bees by three to one,” Campbell said, adding that varroa mites also carry and spread disease, such as deformed wing virus. “Once you get to a certain threshold with the mites… you are just spreading disease everywhere. The mites are a huge vector.”
No need to peek
“So one of the other exciting aspects of this, is now that we are able to take these readings at the individual honeycomb or cell level, you can now start to virtualize your hive. So now you could look at these dynamics in your hive without ever opening the lid,” he said. “It could be -30 and the middle of December and you could be sitting in your living room in Manitoba, pick up your iPad and take a look at what is going on anywhere.”
Information from the hive will likely be transferred to iPads that employees can take into the field with them. Near-field technology or radio-frequency identification could then be used to scan into each hive, Campbell said.
Given that there are many foreign workers at Durston Honey Farm and others, the system also needs to be easy to understand and use regardless of language abilities, he said, adding they are still working out details.
“It’s also going to help us meet very high standards of traceability and biosecurity issues,” Campbell said. “In the honey industry we’ve worked very hard at creating some new sets of standards of food safety, so I think this will kind of be the high point of all of that if it goes well.”
In the long term, Campbell said there are hopes of commercializing the smart hive, which has been developed in tandem with Function Four, a Winnipeg-based software and consulting firm.
“It’s part of a whole system we are putting together, that will eventually include a dispatching model as well,” he said. “There is just so much paperwork and it frustrates beekeepers and farmers to no end, the last thing they want is more paperwork, so if we can make this easy for them… I think we can really advance things in the field.”