SECTIONS - The Internet of Things
November 25, 2015

Bee Good. A Different Kind of Hive Computing

Applications of the Internet of Things and machine-to-machine technology are broad and wide. The IoT and M2M can be used to allow us to be reminded it’s time to move around; enable patient and senior monitoring and medical reminders; help us make better use of energy and other resources (like gasoline, people, and trucks) via smart building, smart city, smart grid, smart home, and smart lighting; keep us safer and even help us drive with connected car applications; and power a wide variety of business applications related to the manufacturing, the oil and gas industry, and more.

But I just learned of an application that demonstrates just how very broad the application of these technologies can be. It involves bees and a gentleman named Will MacHugh, who grew up in a family that grew cherries and who today is president of Eltopia Communications.

The communications services provider is a facilities-based competitive local exchange carrier with wireline operations in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. The company is also putting together a cellular 3G/4G network.

Three years ago MacHugh was at a maker fair in California and came across a fellow who had a display related to beekeeping. Knowing something about the subject, MacHugh got excited about the idea, licensed some of the technology, and took it to the Oregon State Beekeepers Convention, at which the idea didn’t fly.

So MacHugh went back to the drawing board and asked beekeepers what problems they had that he might help address. One prevalent problem faced by beekeepers is mites. Typically beekeepers contend with that by removing beehive frames and putting them in an oven to kill the mites. But that is obviously not an optimal solution, so MacHugh and his team tried to find a way to heat frames from the inside.

So they developed what looks like a heater element in a stove, then they coated it with wax, and made it like a frame in a beehive. Then they presented the solution to Marla Spivak, a University of Minnesota professor who is considered the leading researcher on bees. (Check out her TED Talk on the subject.) Spivak and her team of entomologists now provide MacHugh and his group with such input as what temperature is ideal both to kill the mites and for the health of the bees, how long to keep the temperature at that setting, and how all of the above affects the bees. That’s important because there’s a lot of temperature variability within a hive and the combs based on where the bees are in the honey-making process.

The solution, called Mite Not, monitors the temperature of the brood comb. The solution, for which Gemalto is a partner, also has sensors that count the number of mites going in to and out of the hive. The first units of Mite Not are in the field, with one of the larger installations at a university in Argentina. MacHugh says the goal is to build a larger scale prototype for a test in February in California. There are 2 million commercial beehives in the U.S., and more than 90 percent of them travel to California each year to pollinate almonds, MacHugh explained. Mite Not, he added, will cost less than commercially available pesticide-based solutions that are used to guard hives against Varroa destructor mites.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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