Smart Beehives May Save Our Crops

By Nicole Garbarino

The Internet of Things has become increasingly more popular with making our homes, cars and other devices “smart”. This is intended to make our lives easier, but what if we could take this technology and instead save a species from endangerment? As the honeybee population decreases, we have to ship large quantities of bees longer distances to pollinate our food. Researchers are now working on trying to save the honeybees using the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) tactics to learn why honeybee populations are in such rapid decline. But, why are we so worried about the honeybees if we can just ship them to where they are needed most? Well, they increase our crop value in the U.S. by more than $15 billion annually (USDA). Also, almonds are completely dependent on the pollination of honeybees, meaning 1.4 million colonies have to be shipped to California just to support the almond industry every year. This is expensive, time consuming and is becoming harder to do as the population decreases. So then, why are the honeybees dying at such an accelerated rate? It’s because of Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. This occurs when a colony’s adult bees have died off, leaving a queen, honey and immature bees. Since the mature bees are dead, there aren’t any left to continue pollinating plants.

 Scientists are not yet sure of all the factors that cause CCD, however, they do know that one contributing factor is the presence of Varroa mites. These mites feed on haemolymph, which is basically insect “blood”. Viruses can be transmitted to the bees through mite bites and the adult bees start to die off. Pesticides are one way to prevent this; however, the use of pesticides is thought to be another cause of CCD. While trying to think of a solution, researchers have realized that by heating up the beehive at just the right time during the mite breeding cycle, they could actually sterilize the mites. This idea has been around and used before, but no one has tried using a M2M solution to make this process more exact and efficient.

 Marla Spivak, a McKnight University professor is working with an agriculture communications firm, Eltopia, and an M2M communications specialist, Gemalto, to create the MiteNot project. The MiteNot project is a smart beehive that is completely biodegradable, and is designed to look like what beekeepers use for bee reproduction. The frame is embedded with sensors that monitor the reproductive cycle of the mites, the state of the bees and much more. The information is currently shared over a 3G mobile network, however, MiteNot is prepared to transition to 4G as time goes on. With this connectivity, researchers can monitor the hive and raise or lower the temperature as needed from wherever they are. Whoever is responsible for monitoring the process now will not have to disturb the bees everyday just to check how they are doing or to heat the hive (ComputerWeekly). This product will be commercially available later in 2015 and may be the answer that was needed to save the honeybees.

 Although there may be other reasons for CCD, this is one that scientists know for sure. They now can easily stop the reproduction of Varroa mites, which will lengthen the life span of numerous honeybees. Through the IoT, we are now able to unobtrusively and easily monitor insects and potentially protect them from diseases. This could benefit other endangered animals in the future as well. The MiteNot project is just the beginning for a whole new market in the IoT and M2M space.