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. 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.) 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) 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 when someone/something is attacking/stealing from the hive!
2.) Arnia (http://www.arnia.co.uk/)
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.
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 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.
Previously this article featured the Flow Hive, but it seems that it might not be all that wonderful for the bees and the organic bee keepers: Please read this article for more information – 3 Reasons To Go Against The Flow Hive (2017) by Maryam Henein at HoneyColony. This article also reports on the latest Bee health status regarding Colony Collapse and increasing bee populations! Whoo-hoo!