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Beehackers

From IEEE Spectrum:

Pity the poor beekeeper. While bee researchers play with high-frequency dancing robotic bees, DNA scanners, and forensic pollen analysis, beekeepers must scavenge 19th-century feed scales off eBay.

The problem is money. Even though bees play a crucial role in the pollination of agricultural products worth billions of dollars, a hive typically produces honey that’s worth no more than US $1000 a year at retail. A few lucky beekeepers get hired by farmers to pollinate their crops, but the overall margin is still far too slim for fancy modern equipment. So beekeepers typically are able to track the health and honey-making performance of their charges in only the crudest of ways.

Tom Rearick, an electrical engineer, and some fellow “beehackers” are trying to change all that. He wants his site, BeeHacker.com, to become a hub of on-the-cheap development of appropriate technology for beekeepers, with projects ranging from simple hive scales to laser-based bee tracking. For example, a $20 luggage scale augmented with $5 to $10 of scrap hardware can check the weight of dozens of hives a day. That would give a rough idea of how much honey the bees are producing and of the general health of the hive. With Rearick’s hack, you just lift one side of the hive gently with a pry bar connected to the scale by a cable. Assuming that honey and bees are evenly distributed inside the hive, the scale will stabilize at half the hive’s weight.

Ultimately, a hacked hive would be able to report the entrance and exit of individual bees, and perhaps external sensors could track where they gather their pollen and what troubles they encounter along the way. Meanwhile, internal sensors would report temperature and humidity; provide the data to diagnose mite, fungus, and other infestations; and keep tabs on honey production—all using scavenged parts supervised by a few cheap microcontrollers. And even during the winter, when a hive is dormant, a microphone could monitor the sound levels of worker bees flexing their wing muscles to generate heat to warm the rest of the colony. (This is another area where beehackers will have to gather much more data before offering analyses deeper than “buzzing, good; no buzzing, bad.”)

Sounds like there is potential here for some pretty cool projects. I call the name “beeduino”! 🙂



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4 Comments

  1. Got a buddy that just started bee-keeping. I was thinking of various sensor implanted in the hive. This looks cool

  2. Funny enough, I took a intro bee class this weekend.

    That one slat he’s holding will hold up to 20 pounds of honey when ready for harvest. Multiple that by 8 slats in a box(called a super) with upto 3 supers on a “hive”, that’s 480 pounds of honey at peak harvest. Really neat stuff.

    The area is pretty ripe for “beeduinos” to step in.

  3. Good stuff. There is defiantly a lot of potential for technology to help bee keepers, improve yield and improve bee living conditions. I have been working on an open-source bee hive temperaturemonitoring system as a sub-project to open-source energy monitoring. The results have been very interesting. Results and full open-source documentation can be viewed here http://openenergymonitor.org/emon/beemonitor

    I am currently working on a wireless web-connected system to get a live feed from the hive

  4. As long as you use Zigbee for the wireless connectivity, you’re OK

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