Digital beekeeping – using technology to support pollination and help save bees

(Image via Hans Benn from Pixabay)

Mobile-based Internet of Things (IoT) systems are helping farmers support one of humanity’s greatest contributors to the food chain: the humble but decidedly important bee.

Using a combination of 2G-based SIM cards deployed on special boxes in the field, product suppliers to major high street chains (including Tesco and Marks and Spencer) and brands such as Innocent Drinks can take remedial action to increase ‘pollinators’ (a bug that passes pollen to plants and allows fertilization).

As a result, users can plan to increase pollinator visits by a factor of 10 during the next growing season, says Casey Woodward, chief executive and founder of UK-based AgriSound.

This matters to the bottom line of their individual farms, as sub-optimal pollination has been shown to cost growers in the region £5,000 per hectare.

But with a global market associated with pollinators estimated by Friends of the Earth to be worth $557 billion a year (in the UK alone, the value of the crops they help grow is £691 million a year), having humans do the work could cost The food industry lost at least £1.8bn.

Helping bees and other insects do this “job” could end up benefiting the planet too, as they pollinate 70 of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of the world’s food — which is why AgriSound sees it in what it calls “Alexa” To such a value for cattle.

AgriSound, founded by Woodward in 2020, has 10 employees working on the use of IoT and wireless communications in agricultural technology.

It accelerated the move with the purchase of remote beehive monitoring tool specialist Arnia, which has been operating in the market in 14 countries since 2009. The combined company now has customers in 25 countries.

Arnia’s products use proprietary MTM (machine-to-machine) SIM cards from cellular connectivity company Pod Group. Since 2012, Pod is now part of a German networking company called Giesecke+Devrient, which claims to have launched the first commercial SIM card in 1991. Woodward said:

Now everything can be smart, everything can send data and can send information, but you need connectivity to do that because data has to go to the backend, so you need connectivity.

Woodward added:

My background is as a scientist, but having worked in the agricultural industry for a long time, I have seen people use advanced sound analysis to listen to the welfare of different types of farm animals, such as the way their pigs cough.

I started thinking, can we use these technologies to monitor cattle herds? We know they’re going extinct for a number of different reasons, mostly driven by agricultural intensification, but we can’t act unless we know where to apply possible solutions.

So we built a suite of digital signal processing techniques, combined with machine learning, and our vision is to have the world’s largest database of insect biodiversity, which we can share with governments, multinational agrochemical companies or bee suppliers as needed.

Polly – Digital Beekeeper

The technology is embodied in the company’s field “beekeeping” (beekeeping) monitor “Polly”.

Polly is powered by onboard solar panels and can sit on a pole or embedded in the ground. Best practice suggests that two to four devices per hectare provide the best coverage.

Inside each Polly is a microphone that listens for insect sounds, as well as temperature, humidity and light sensors.

The machine is sensitive enough to detect if an individual, swarm, bee, bumblebee, wasp or other flying insect is passing by.

Once in use, these devices generate millions of data points every day.

These are delivered in the form of messages such as “10 pollinators in this part of your field in the past hour”, along with contextual data.

This data is transmitted over a high-reliability 2G multi-network that searches for the strongest local carrier signal to handle central control for near real-time insight into hive (or “swarm”) status.

A key data point is flapping frequency, which can tell the software a lot about the survivability of flying insects that fly by.

This data is then analyzed and predictive “bioacoustic” algorithms are applied to support beekeepers in a range of pollinator management tasks, such as when to conduct hive inspections.

The analysis is provided to customers via a web portal, where they can see various indicators about pollinator activity, such as a “heat map” of activity, which indicates where bees may need help, or where beehive placement is likely to produce more pollination or higher Potential for larger honey harvests.

It was this “one-sided glass” management that drew him to the networking equipment provider. He added:

The main thing we like about this product is the dashboard; we can turn things off, we can turn things on, we don’t have to worry about whether we need to manually swap things to different networks, etc.

If we have devices in a lot of different countries, it would be great to be able to manage all of them from one central location, as it would make our customer support job easier and thus make us more agile. It’s also far better for the client to use technology to achieve this than the only other option, which is someone standing on site with a clipboard.

Another benefit, he added, is that easy access to the most reliable network signals also warrants data collection in rural areas, on the edges of fields or in wildflower meadows where pollinators congregate.

This combination of IoT and 2G is helping to allow the humble bee to do its valuable work for customers, he said. The next step will be to add the ability to distinguish between different insect species, allowing customers to tell all of them apart. difference between. Various pollinators help them.

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