A bee pollinates a flower.

Even Bees Are Abuzz About Caffeine

Many of us can’t get through the day without at minimum one cup of coffee, or at least, we’d rather not think about trying. No matter how you choose to ingest caffeine, it is an awesome source of energy and focus for legions of hackers and humans. And evidently, the same goes for pollinator bees.

You’ve probably heard that there aren’t enough bees around anymore to pollinate all the crops that need pollinating. That’s old news. One solution was to raise them commercially and then truck them to farmers’ fields where they’re needed. The new problem is that the bees wander off and pollinate wildflowers instead of the fields they’re supposed to be pollinating. But there’s hope for these distracted bees: Scientists at the University of Greenwich have discovered that bees under the influence of caffeine are more likely to stay on track when given a whiff of the flower they’re supposed to be pollinating.

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Airports Are Now AirBNBs For Honeybees

In the summer of 2012, honeybees swarmed the Pittsburgh airport, probably because the conditions are favorable there. Like many airports, the tarmac is surrounded by wild, wide-open fields that exist to contain the cacophony. And a couple of nearby creeks are dotted with plenty of forage-worthy wildflowers.

Free honey? Wúnderbar!

Now, nearly a decade later, the airport is home to 110 colonies that house around 4 million honeybees. And they aren’t alone. Several other US airports are getting in on the apiary action, including O’Hare, Sea-Tac, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The relationship between honeybees and airports is a symbiotic one — the honey the bees produce is a litmus test for air pollution levels around the airport, which must fall within regulations. German airports have employed bees as ‘bio-detectives’ for over twenty years, and they give the honey away for free inside the terminal. It’s okay, though — analysis reveals that the hydrocarbon and heavy metal levels in the airport honey aren’t any higher than honey from non-industrial bees.

Given that honeybees pollinate around $15 billion in crops annually in the US alone, it’s a wonder that we aren’t doing everything possible to fight colony collapse disorder and other problems around the world. This mysterious issue has grown in the last few years, and 2020 saw highest death toll since 2016. Colony collapse disorder aside, plenty of problems persist for our fuzzy friends — pests, pesticides, pathogens, and poor nutrition.

What’s the deal with bees, anyway? How do they fly? Because they aren’t supposed to fly.

Flapping Wings And The Science Of How Bees Can Fly

Jerry Seinfeld launched his career with Bee Movie, an insect-themed animated feature that took the world by storm in 2007. It posed the quandary – that supposedly, according to all known laws of aviation, bees should not be able to fly. Despite this, the bee flies anyway, because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible.

The quote isn’t easily attributed to anyone in particular, but is a cautionary tale about making the wrong assumptions in an engineering context. Yes, if you model a bee using the same maths as an airliner, of course you’ll find that it shouldn’t be able to fly. Its tiny wings can’t possibly generate enough lift to get its body off the ground. But that’s because the assumption is an erroneous one – because bees don’t fly in the same way planes do. Bees flap their wings. But that’s just the beginning. The truth is altogether more complex and interesting! Continue reading “Flapping Wings And The Science Of How Bees Can Fly”

Bee Counter Will Have You Up To Your Nectar In Hive Data

While we admit that free honey sounds pretty good, beekeeping is not some set-it-and-forget-it hobby where you can just put bees in a box and come back in a month to collect the goods. With the world’s bee population in decline, it’s more important than ever to monitor the health of hives.

One way to do that is to count the bees as they leave and reenter the hive. You can use the data to determine how many workers are working, or to compare activity between multiple hives. If you notice the bees are gone for longer and longer periods, it’s probably because their nearby nectar sources are dwindling and they have to travel farther to find flowers.

This open-source bee counter built by [hydronics2] is designed to fit the opening of a standard hive. The bees can only buzz themselves back in by flying through one of 24 little IR break-beam gates. Our favorite thing about this build is the way [hydronics2] created the individual gates by sandwiching two boards together with headers as spacers. It’s such a simple and perfect solution.

It’s also pretty cool that the board is designed to be compatible with any Feather or ItsyBitsy board, so there are a lot of options for data handling. Check out the brief demo we planted after the break, and stick around for the build video. If you’d prefer a more hands-off approach, try computer vision.

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Bee Minder Proves Not Even Bees Are Safe From Surveillance States

We all know how important bees are to our ecosystems and [Kris Winer]’s bee monitor provides a great way to monitor these amazing but delicate creature’s habitats, hopefully alerting us before a disaster strikes a vital hive.

The board is based around LoRa sensor tile called Cicada but redesigned to make it smaller and cheaper. LoRa is a popular low-power wide-area network running on sub-Ghz bands designed exactly for applications like this. This board has a nice suite of sensors. It can detect UVA, UVB, and the visible spectrum of light. It can also observe the temperature, pressure, and humidity. Importantly for bees, the accelerometer can detect the various vibrations of the hive as well as disaster events like vandalism.

The data is all logged into a Cayenne dashboard which the prospective farmer could view and analyze from anywhere. [Kris] mentions that the board is relatively easy to re-spin with a different sensor suite depending on the application. Technology like this can go along way towards a more sustainable future.

Organic Ornithopter Sensor Drone

Bees. The punchline to the title is bees carrying sensors like little baby bee backpacks. We would run out of fingers counting the robots which emulate naturally evolved creatures, but we believe there is a lot of merit to pirating natural designs, but researchers at the University of Washington cut out the middle-man and put their sensors right on living creatures. They measured how much a bee could lift, approximately 105 milligrams, then built a sensor array lighter than that. Naturally, batteries are holding back the design, and the rechargeable lithium-ion is more than half of the weight.

When you swap out brushless motors for organics, you gain and lose some things. You lose the real-time control, but you increase the runtime. You lose the noise, but you also lose the speed. You increase the range, but you probably wind up visiting the same field over and over. If your goal is to monitor the conditions of flowering crops, you may be ready to buy and install, but for the rest of us, dogs are great for carrying electronics. Oh yes. Cats are not so keen. Oh no.

Counting Bees With A Raspberry Pi

Even if keeping bees sounds about as wise to you as keeping velociraptors (we all know how that movie went), we have to acknowledge that they are a worthwhile thing to have around. We don’t personally want them around us of course, but we respect those who are willing to keep a hive on their property for the good of the environment. But as it turns out, there are more challenges to keeping bees than not getting stung: you’ve got to keep track of the things too.

Keeping an accurate record of how many bees are coming and going, and when, is a rather tricky problem. Apparently bees don’t like electromagnetic fields, and will flee if they detect them. So putting electronic measuring devices inside of the hive can be an issue. [Mat Kelcey] decided to try counting his bees with computer vision, and so far the results are very promising.

After some training, a Raspberry Pi with a camera can count how many bees are in a given image to within a few percent of the actual number. Getting an accurate count of his bees allows [Mat] to generate fascinating visualizations about his hive’s activity and health. With real-world threats such as colony collapse disorder, this type of hard data can be crucial.

This is a perfect example of a hack which might not pertain to many of us as-is, but still contains a wealth of information which could be applicable to other projects. [Mat] goes into a fantastic amount of detail about the different approaches he tried, what worked, what didn’t, and where he goes from here. So far the only problem he’s having is with the Raspberry Pi: it’s only able to run at one frame per second due to the computational requirements of identifying the bees. But he’s got some ideas to improve the situation.

As it so happens, we’ve covered a few other methods of counting bees in the past, though this is the first one to be entirely vision based. Interestingly, this method is similar to the project to track squirrels in the garden. Albeit without the automatic gun turret part.