Smart bee hives

Fiona Edwards Murphy
University College Cork

My project uses 'wireless sensor network' technology together with signal processing and machine learning techniques to aid preservation, and encourage productivity, of the western honey bee (Apis mellifera).

Honey bees do not just produce honey and wax; they serve the vitally important function of pollination. Bees pollinate 70 of the 100 crop species which provide 90% of the food we eat every day. Recently, a range of honey bee pests and diseases have become widespread. Populations are in decline throughout the world, and scientists have not been able to identify a conclusive cause.

Wireless sensor networks is a unique technology which collects data, often over a wide area, using physically separate 'nodes'. Each node is made up of: one or more sensors; a power source (battery); and a low-power processor. The nodes also have wireless communication capabilities. This allows them to 'funnel' all of the data to a single node for collection and analysis. My project places a series of such devices within live beehives. These gather data that reflects the status of the hive, including: carbon dioxide, oxygen, temperature, humidity, weight, and sound levels.

Part of my work is in the area of machine learning algorithms, which can extract information, make decisions, and make predictions, without the need for human intervention. These can automatically describe the status of the hive. In relation to diseases, this technology can provide concrete evidence of changes in the hive. If early evidence of poor health can be detected, beekeepers can intervene and improve the yield of their hives by lowering bee mortality. Maximising productivity, as well as providing opportunities for population growth, could be vital to preventing extinction of this crucially important pollinator.