The Internet of Bees

Jack Caulfield
October 3rd 2017

Do you ever wonder what bees talk about amongst themselves? A beehive is a very busy home, and gossip must spread fast. But what kind of information can we take from that buzz of conversation? With the help of a new monitoring system, a Canadian researcher is hoping to find out.

Colony Collapse

Bees are always in the news these days. These hardworking pollinators are vital to the ecosystem, yet increasingly under threat. One such threat, colony collapse disorder - when worker bees abandon a hive en masse for seemingly no reason - presents a major puzzle for ecologists today. Though many possible causes are being considered, the true cause is still a mystery.

Oldooz Pooyanfar, a graduate student at Simon Fraser University, is hoping to help find some answers. Ingenious solutions have been proposed to replace bees as their numbers decline. Pooyanfar, instead, aims to solve the mystery before it’s too late; by asking the bees themselves what’s wrong.

What Do Bees Talk About?

Pooyanfar’s system, which is still being tested and developed, is intended to monitor hives for “bee talk”. Not literal speech, of course, but measurements from sensors designed to calculate sound, temperature, humidity, and even acceleration. Through their behaviors, bees may communicate - to one another and hopefully to the sensors - what exactly is happening in the hive. With this kind of data, Pooyanfar hopes to learn more about the colony collapses, which are currently so inexplicable, and potentially prevent future problems.

Since Pooyanfar is working with an assortment of stock parts, the project’s technology is clunky and not particularly cost-efficient so far. But it is hoped that in coordination with local beekeepers a custom-designed version of the technology could cut costs significantly. Ultimately, the intention is to create a large number of these devices and have the data monitored by a neural network trained to watch for problems. Such a hive(s) mind could be immensely helpful for beekeepers, who sometimes tend to thousands of hives and cannot hope to monitor them all constantly.

Might the mystery of colony collapse disorder finally be solved simply by finding out what the bees have been buzzing about all along? And what other applications might this technology have? Once we can listen in on bee talk, what might be the logical next step? Twitter for birds?

Source: TechCrunch. Image: Network Ireland

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