Roots 'n' Shoots: Sci-Fi Beehives: Smart Phones & Hives on Tap!

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Sci-Fi Beehives: Smart Phones & Hives on Tap!

African Honey Bee
Apis mellifera
Bees are one of the most important animals when it comes to food production (a close second in my opinion after earthworms who supply healthy soil). Bees have been domesticated since antiquity; the ancient Egyptians depict workers smoking hives and collecting honeycombs in temple paintings dating before 2422 BC. Bee hives have taken on many shapes across the centuries and cultures, from clay or straw skeps (an open ended dome) to wooden barrels. Even today most beehives are usually wooden boxes with removable lids or drawers. Lately I have been seeing more features on next generation high tech beehives.

Traditionally, honey is harvested from beehives by smoking the bees (after you’re properly suited up to look like a UFO researcher! LOL!). The smoke makes the bees a bit woozy so that they don’t attack the beekeeper (or at least not too much…). The honeycombs are removed and the combs are scrapped to break the wax seal on the cells, which allows the honey to be collected. Commercial beekeepers have machinery that spin out the honey, which is collected in a large barrel. Debris are removed by several filters and finally the honey is bottled and ready for the market. The initial disturbance of the hive can be stressful on the bees and thus new ways of harvesting and monitoring beehive health have been investigated. Several new hives have made their way onto the scene recently, here I have a few that I found the most interesting:

1.) FlowTM Hive (http://www.honeyflow.com/)

This hive was designed to make harvesting of honey easier and more efficient, as well as limiting the amount of work necessary for bees to build honeycombs. The hive was designed by Cedar and Stuart Anderson. It has plastic honeycombs with partially lined cells. The bees only have to finish off the cell walls, deposit the honey and top off with a wax seal. When harvesting begins, the beekeeper turns the key and the plastic honeycombs split the cells vertically. The honey flows towards the bottom, into a trough and out of the hive. The key is tuned again and the plastic combs are reset to be refilled with honey once more. Unfortunately, the bees still need to be smoked and checked up on manually to ensure their overall health.


FlowTM Hive ©


2.) APiS Monitoring System (http://apistech.eu/)

Apis Technology supplies their own beehive, but it is the smart phone app that comes with it, which really steals the show. They are a bit secretive about how exactly it works, but I assume that several different measuring devices are fitted into the beehive. The system is able to record and monitor several different physical and behavioural aspects of the bee colony, including: GPS location, temperature, weight, humidity, foraging (bee counts at the entrance/exit most likely J) and probably a motion sensor for the hive. All these measurements are likely used to extrapolate bee behaviour and production estimates. You can check up on any of the hives from your phone as well as receive any alerts should the physical conditions become suboptimal or someone/something is attacking/stealing from the hive!



APiS Monitoring System ©


(Apparently the APiS system has not performed so well, according to this article – but the information and ordering are still available on the original website, so I am not convinced that it hasn’t been somewhat of a success.)

The remote hive monitoring has been taken one step further by Arnia; they have added acoustic sensors in addition to physical parameter measurements (temperature, humidity etc.). Bees communicate with some visual cues, but most of the communication is up to pheromones, odours and different types of buzzing noises. The ‘acoustic signatures’ can signal whether the colony should swarm or follow others to food sources, which are picked up by the sensors and interpreted. Should the colony ‘sound’ irregular; a notice is sent to your smart phone. It has also been suggested that colony sounds can also be used to determine the level of pest infestation and when hives are under attack from predators. Research is still underway and should improve with time to produce a comprehensive library of bee signatures with which beekeepers should be able to monitor the colony health without the need for manual inspection.


Arnia Hive Monitoring System ©

For additional information on the use of sounds in bee communication, see the following references:



The ultimate goal behind the development of smart-hives are to approach a semi-natural system for honey production; where bees are disturbed as little as possible during honey production and mankind can still enjoy all the benefits of this liquid gold. I think that these are fantastic new developments where technology benefits nature as well as humans, since timely warning systems of disease and colony unease will likely limit the use of treatment methods that are harmful to the environment – this is where the old adage of prevention is better than cure benefits all parties involved.


Other Bee Related Articles:

SA Bees in Trouble



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