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How Technology Saved a Honey Bee Colony

21st Century Health Care for Honey Bees

Bees are vitally important to modern agriculture. But in spite of the important role they play in pollinating so many foods, it is clear that beekeepers lack the kind of modern technology that currently exists both in other areas of agriculture and, crucially, in human medical research. Over the past several years, honey bee colony collapse has become a worldwide concern. But the very cause of the problem, much less a solution, has remained a mystery.

What causes a healthy hive to become what beekeepers call a “dead out?” How can the process be detected and once discovered, can beekeepers actually reverse the process and return the hive to health?

Kelton Tembly is a medical robotics engineer who helps doctors remotely diagnose patients using state of the art technologies. After becoming a backyard beekeeper, he became concerned about the plight of bees and decided to apply the principles of his profession to the hive collapse situation. “For medical emergencies like stroke, you enable a doctor to identify the issue and treat the patient as quickly as possible,” says Kelton. So he formed a team of engineers and PhD’s to apply advanced computer vision techniques normally used for robotic navigation to study colony collapse.

This team, Keltronix, began by developing EyesOnHives, a system designed to constantly monitor the state of beehives, and report trends and alerts to the beekeeper via a smart phone or the internet.  “We set out to try to detect and measure the ongoing state of hives before colony collapse,” Kelton explains, “and we essentially wound up with a health monitor for honey bees.”

The biggest challenge for the team was creating an effective measure of hive health that didn’t interfere with the normal activity of the bees, and beyond that, whether the beekeeper could do anything to revitalize the failing hive. After months of development and testing, they got their chance to find out.

One of the hives EyesOnHives was monitoring showed just such a decline. “From the outside, it looked perfectly normal,” reports Kelton. “But the robotic camera algorithm detected subtle changes unseen by the hive’s keepers.” The hive’s queen had failed. While the hive was still full of bees, no queen or brood remained. “The orientation flight was decreasing, because there were fewer new bees”. The original Queen’s replacement had also failed. There were a number of empty queen cells, but no queen or eggs. The colony was doomed.

The team treated the hive by transferring two brood frames with fresh eggs from the hive next to it. Amazingly, the bees in the previously queenless hive raised a new emergency queen and the hive was back in business. “The new queen is a real beauty,” says Kelton, “and she’s now laying a great pattern.  Like stroke in humans, it appears some causes of hive collapse can be treated if diagnosed early and treated quickly.”

Presently partnering with California Central Coast Beekeeping Associations, EyesOnHives is nearing completion of beta testing. Paul Cronshaw, a beekeeper of 40 years and President of the Santa Beekeepers Association calls EyesOnHives, “my eyes of the future of beekeeping.”  You can sign up for updates and announcements at keltronixinc.com.

The company also announced their goal to make a version of EyesOnHives available to hobbyist beekeepers through a Kickstarter campaign which launched November 16th. The company states that with enough support they can achieve their goal of building low cost systems, and compile an enormous dataset to further enable researchers to help bees.  A video of the project is available at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/985910122/eyesonhives-the-health-monitor-for-honey-bees

About Keltronix, Inc.
Keltronix Inc is a technology company with the mission to accelerate the transition to sustainable agriculture. The team has developed patent pending technology and a suite of algorithms to quantify activity in video using distributed processing, and provide analytics and insight to remote decision makers.  For more information visit www.keltronixinc.com.

 

one

EyesOnHives Camera Unit which points at the hive entrance.

Queenless Hive

Queenless bees among empty queen cups.

fig1

Healthy Orientation Activity viewed through the EyesOnHives system.

fig2

Unhealthy Hive Activity viewed through the EyesOnHives system.

fig3

The activity of the queenless colony in decline

Healthy_Bees_QueenMiddle

The successful emergency raised queen with eggs in comb