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This App Monitors Bee Flight To Warn When Something’s Amiss

Eyes on Hives is a creative technology for fighting the honeybee crisis.

Beekeepers deserve a lot of credit for keeping us fed. As honeybees continue to die off in record numbers, overworked beekeepers have actually managed to increase the total number of active colonies–so there are still enough bees to keep crops pollinated for now, and grocery stores haven’t started to look pitifully understocked.

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The job keeps getting harder as environmental stresses such as pesticides and drought increase. New technology is designed to help: A camera pointed at a hive records the action as bees fly in and out. Its software then analyzes the patterns and send beekeepers an alert on an app if something looks awry.

“A beekeeper’s biggest challenge is often time,” says Kelton Temby, founder of Keltronix, which designed the new system, called Eyes on Hives. Beekeepers also typically don’t check on hives more than a couple of times a month because it disturbs the bees.

“Without a record of what is happening over the day, it is common for a beekeeper to have that heartbreaking task to look for ‘what went wrong’ with a dead hive, rather than catch a trend and changing the schedule to look into an issue right away,” Temby says.

The camera and app, continually monitoring activity, can help. The first version of the technology was designed for backyard beekeepers, who have even less time to watch their bees.

“It’s really easy now for a beekeeper to identify things like an ant attack, just by watching videos and time lapses of their hive,” he says. The technology also picks out the flight activity at the hive, allowing beekeepers to understand what “normal” behavior patterns look like. This allows them to detect subtle changes going on inside the hive that cause a colony to decline.

The system also connects backyard beekeepers in a network, so another beekeeper might also notice a problem in someone’s hive. When a beekeeper gets an alert, they can quickly try to fix the issue.

In one case, as beekeepers tested the technology, a change in activity alerted them that the queen bee had died, along with the emergency replacement queen. “The bees were doomed,” says Temby. “A simple intervention of putting in a frame of eggs from the hive next to it, allowed the bees to raise another queen, and the new queen led that hive back to success.”

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In other cases, the alerts helped beekeepers learn that they should modify the opening to the hive to keep out pests or add some extra honey to supplement the hive’s food.

Now, the startup is working on scaling the technology so it works as well for commercial beekeepers as for someone with a backyard hive. “Bees are responsible for a third of the food that we eat,” says Temby. “There’s $15 billion in U.S. agriculture that depends on pollination from bees, but we lost 42% of bee colonies last year…Our goal is to support the transition to sustainable agriculture.”

Eyes on Hives is now raising funds on Kickstarter.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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