Bee Backpack to Save Bees?
A tiny bee backpack has been designed and produced in an effort to save bees. The bee backpack is part of a hitech system to monitor insects to help solve the mystery of why they are dying in massive numbers
Bee colonies around the world have been collapsing – and technology could reveal why. Australian researchers have revealed a tiny bee backpack chip developed with Intel that could help shed new light on their plight. It will allow insects to be monitored by a ‘smart hive’.
THE BEE CRISIS
More than two out of five American honeybee colonies have died in the past year, and surprisingly the worst die-off was in the summer, according to a federal survey.
Since April 2014, beekeepers lost 42.1 percent of their colonies, the second highest loss rate in nine years, according to an annual survey conducted by a bee partnership that includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
‘What we’re seeing with this bee problem is just a loud signal that there’s some bad things happening with our agro-ecosystems,’ said study co-author Keith Delaplane at the University of Georgia.
‘The tiny technology allows researchers to analyse the effects of stress factors including disease, pesticides, air pollution, water contamination, diet and extreme weather on the movements of bees and their ability to pollinate,’ Professor Paulo de Souza of CSIRO said.
‘We’re also investigating what key factors, or combination of factors, lead to bee deaths on mass.’
‘The sensors, working in partnership with Intel technology, operate in a similar way to an aeroplane’s black box flight recorder in that they provide us with vital information about what stress factors impact bee health.’
As bees are normally predictable creatures, changes in their behaviour indicate stress factors or a change in their environment.
By modelling bee movement using the bee backpack researchers can help identify the causes of stress in order to protect the important pollinating work honey bees do and identify any disease or other biosecurity risks.
‘Bee colonies are collapsing around the world and we don’t know why,’ said Professor de Souza.
‘Due to the urgent and global nature of this issue, we saw the need to develop a methodology that any scientist could easily deploy.
‘This way we can share and compare data from around the world to collaboratively investigate bee health.’
‘This united effort is a fantastic example of the Internet of Things.’
The Intel Edison Breakout Board kit, a customisable computer platform, is slightly larger than a postage stamp. This kit will be distributed by CSIRO to research partners worldwide in the form of a bee micro-sensor kit as part of the Global Initiative for Honey bee Health (GIHH).
HOW IT WORKS
Included in the micro-sensor kit, the Intel Edison board will be placed inside beehives to monitor bee activity via tiny Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags (the bee backpack) that are placed on the bees’ backs.
The Intel Edison Breakout Board kit, a customisable compute platform, is slightly larger than a postage stamp.
The sensors work in a similar way to a vehicle’s e-tag, recording when the insect passes the Intel Edison board as the checkpoint.
Data captured by the RFID tag reader and additional environmental sensors attached to the Intel Edison board will provide valuable information to beekeepers, primary producers, industry groups and governments.
This information will inform how best to protect the honey bee health population, which we rely on to pollinate one third of the food we consume.
‘The Intel Edison Breakout Board kit is the perfect platform for this type of research. It’s incredibly reliable, small in size, flexible with programming, and has low power consumption. It’s also easily customisable which means that if a scientist has a sensor they would like to add, they can virtually plug in and play,’ said de Souza.
CSIRO Pollination Researcher, Dr Saul Cunningham, said Australia has been very lucky, so far, to be the only country that doesn’t have the devastating Varroa mite, which has wiped out bee colonies overseas at an alarming rate.
‘This puts Australia in a good position to act as a control group for research on this major issue that could one day become our problem too,’ Dr Cunningham said.
However, Australia’s horticulture and agricultural industries are particularly vulnerable to declines in honey bee populations as they rely on un-managed feral honey bees for much of their crop pollination.
‘Our managed bee pollination services would be hard-pressed to meet the extra demand required to replace the key role un-managed honey bees play so, the outcome would likely be a drop in crop production and a rise in prices of popular food staples like fruit and veggies,’ Dr Cunningham said.
The international initiative is being mounted to assist in uniting the efforts of those working in the critical area of protecting bee health.
‘The time is now for a tightly-focused, well-coordinated national and international effort, using the same shared technology and research protocols, to help solve the problems facing honey bees worldwide before it is too late,’ Professor de Souza said.
Researchers hope the system could explain what key factors, or combination of factors, lead to bee deaths on mass.
‘Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, predicted the number of transistors on a computer chip would double every year,’ said David Mellers, Enterprise Solutions Sales Director of Intel Australia and New Zealand.
‘This prediction became a driving force for the industry, enabling us to continuously shrink technology and make it more power efficient.
‘This in turn allowed us to rethink where and in what situations computing is possible. Moore’s Law doesn’t just drive technological change, it also creates huge economic value and social advancement, and this implementation of technology as part of the GIHH highlights just that,’ said Mellers.