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System Designed to Monitor Bee Colony Health Buzz

 Bee monitoring system

Engineering graduate student Oldooz Poyanfar and her bee monitoring system (Simon Fraser University)

7 August 2017. A system being developed by a Canadian graduate student monitors the health of bee colonies by analyzing the sounds they make in the hive. Engineering student Oldooz Pooyanfar at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia says the system can provide real-time, economical feedback to bee keepers on the state of their colonies, threatened in recent years by colony collapse disorder.

Honey bees, as their name implies, produce honey, but play a much more vital role in agriculture, namely as pollinators of more than 100 crops grown commercially, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pooyanfar cites data showing well-pollinated crops can increase their production up to 8 times, valued at $2 billion in North America. Moreover, one-third of the human diet is associated with bee pollination.

Beginning in 2006, however, bee colonies began experiencing unexplained large-scale losses, a problem that became known as colony collapse disorder. While many potential reasons for these bee losses are proposed, such as parasites or pesticides, no direct causal links are yet established, and the prevailing hypothesis today is the disorder results from a number of factors working together. While the percentage of bee colony losses today is less than in 2006 and appears to be stable, the scale of those losses is still economically difficult for bee keepers.

Because of this threat to their livelihoods, bee keepers need to keep a closer and continuous watch on their colonies, but have few reliable and economically feasible tools for this task. Pooyanfar notes on her web site that many current monitoring techniques, such as infrared imaging and hive weight measurements, are difficult to implement and not economically feasible for many bee keepers.

The system designed by Pooyanfar, called Arnia, uses small collections of sensors to measure the sounds made inside bee hives, as well as record vibrations, temperature, and humidity. The continuous monitoring of these factors, says Pooyanfar, gives bee keepers straightforward and reliable measurements of their colonies status, where even small changes are highlighted to give the keepers early alerts to problems. In addition, the collected data are mined with artificial intelligence techniques to provide greater insights for bee colony management.

An early version of Arnia is being field tested at Worker Bee Honey Company, also in British Columbia. “With this monitoring system,” says Pooyanfar in a university statement, “we are collecting data in real time on what the bees are ‘saying’ about foraging, or if they’re swarming, or if the queen bee is present. Right now we are collecting as much data as possible that will pinpoint what they are actually doing.”

Pooyanfar hopes to eventually commercialize and manufacture the sensor package for bee keepers. Her project is supported by the Mitacs Accelerate program that provides funding and internships for industrial research by graduate students at Canadian universities. The following video tells more about the system.

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