When a queen shows signs of aging, illness or a fall in eggs, the worker bees replace her. First, the working bees select a few fresh eggs from the former queen and begin feeding them with a protein-rich substance called royal jelly. In about 14 days, baby queens emerge as adults and begin making pipe sounds to let rival queens know that they are there and ready to fight. In this sense, becoming a queen is not a birthright – it is a fight to the death.
With beehive sound sensors collecting this data, beekeepers now know when a new queen is about to emerge – something they would not normally be able to detect.
Computer vision measures honey tide flight data
The innovation did not stop with sounds, weight and temperature. We also wanted to monitor honey bee flight activity as a measure of the colony’s health and strength. Monitoring bees in flight was a bit of a challenge because bees are small. They fly fast. And they don’t exactly smile at the camera.
However, we found a solution by using computer vision and RPCA to get an accurate number of our bees and their activity. In this case, the RPCA removes irrelevant background images from the data, including animals, people, trees and other objects.
The amount of flying activity from the hive can tell us about feed activities, as bees leaving and returning to the hive are typically feeding on nectar, pollen, resin and water. A lot of flying activities mean that the hive is healthy.
By monitoring bees in flight, we can also notice swarms as they occur. Swarms are an important bee health indicator because the hive sometimes ends when bees are sick.
Side effects data inspire action
I am excited to continue to discuss these projects in more detail with my colleagues Anya McGuirk, Brad Klenz, Zohreh Asgharzadeh, Yuwei Liao and others. You can read the paper, “Non-invasive beeswax monitoring through acoustic data” now to learn more about the acoustics project and other articles coming.
We also connect beekeepers globally to share what we have learned. We realize that not every hive in the world could or should be connected to the Internet. But the results we have seen have been really inspiring. And we hope that what we have learned can be a model for measuring the health of the hive when and where it is most needed.