Pollinator Prototypes: Emerging Innovations and Beekeeping Technology

Calling all techies! Are you someone who loves keeping up with the latest in exciting new technologies and inspiring innovations? We live in a tech-forward world; it seems like each day our phones get more intelligent, offices and homes become more connected, and everyday gadgets turn “smart.” Well, did you know the same is true for the beekeeping industry?

While a beehive might not be a place you’d expect to see high-tech capabilities, think again. The industry is buzzing with all kinds of innovations to make beekeepers’, growers’, and, ultimately, pollinators’ jobs easier, all with the help of some cool new contraptions that rely on honey bees and other pollinators to work.

Here are four exciting new technologies in the world of beekeeping that we can’t stop buzzing about:

  1. Inside a Bee HiveBumblebee backpacks for smarter agriculture: Bees wearing backpacks? You heard that right! Engineers at the University of Washington have developed a new concept called the “Living IoT” backpack that plays on bumblebees’ built-in everyday flight patterns to help growers keep a closer watch on their fields and the crops within them. As you may know, drones are becoming more popular for helping those in the agriculture industry observe fluctuating factors in their fields, such as temperature and humidity, as well as signs of crop spoilage. For a process previously done by hand, drones have the ability to give farmers a birds-eye view with greater accuracy, but drones also have a hard time staying in the air all day. As this article so aptly puts it, “why not hitch a ride on something that already flies all day?” The bumblebee backpack is a tiny chip weighing just over 100 milligrams, which is equipped with sensors that monitor a variety of conditions, plus a battery that runs for seven hours while the bees make their rounds. Then, when they return to the hive at night, the backpack takes advantage of the downtime by transferring the data they’ve collected during the day and wirelessly charging to prepare for the next day. Talk about a bee-autiful idea!

  2. Sunny Field with Bee Boxes for PollinatorsAcross the world in Nigeria, a “farmhacker” entrepreneur is working on a similar system to monitor what goes on inside the hive: Honeyflow Africa. This smart hive monitoring system employs a suite of sensors that captures data such as temperature, humidity, sound and behavioral patterns within the hive to help beekeepers keep tabs on their colonies remotely. This digital beekeeping innovation is gaining traction, with other projects like Honeyflow Africa cropping up in Europe and the U.S., and co-founder and farmer Amaete Umanah thinks it’s with good reason. He believes the smart hive technology will help beekeepers in his country – and around the world – boost their earnings and reduce time and labor inputs. A practical application he sees right off the bat is that Honeyflow Africa could alert beekeepers when a hive is preparing to swarm, as the queen bee often makes a specific sound to signal an impending swarm to the hive. This would allow beekeepers to take quick action and implement preventative measures to avoid losing part of their colony. He claims that this “should have hives running at close to 100 percent of their capacity in terms of honey output.”

  3. In Finland, researchers have announced that they’ve created the first-ever vaccine for insects, which comes in the form of an edible sugar patty and is aimed at fortifying honey bee populations. Called PrimeBEE, it targets one of bees’ most serious threats, American foulbrood (AFB), which is an infectious, fatal bacterial disease that spreads like wildfire and can devastate entire colonies. The threat is so serious and can spread so readily that it’s known as a “death sentence” with affected hives often being burned to eradicate the disease. It’s so hard to combat because bees don’t have antibodies in their immune systems like humans do, and as such, they lack a “memory” in their bodies for fighting diseases. Still in the testing phase, PrimeBEE aims to circumvent that limitation by going through the queen. Researchers found that “insects that were exposed to bacteria were able to impart an elevated immune response to their offspring.” PrimeBEE works by having the queen bee consume a sugar patty with the pathogens in it, which then allows the eggs she lays to have future improved immune responses to AFB – by “transferring a signal from one generation to another.” Many in the beekeeping industry hope to see this vaccine fully realized sometime in the not-so-distant future!

  4. Close Up of a Honey CombFinally, the Beez Kneez Honey Cycle in Minneapolis is making waves by revolutionizing how beekeepers extract honey from their hives. Beekeeper Kristy Allen was tired of using her hand crank to extract honey from the comb and knew there must be an easier way. As an avid biker, she already had the know-how; she just needed the mechanism optimized for “pedal power.” Allen enlisted the help of her bike mechanic friend, and together they invented the Beez Kneez Honey Cycle, which is essentially a stationary bike with a giant tank attached to it that allows the rider to extract and filter honey from a hive just by pedaling. She’s set up shop at her business in Minneapolis, where customers pay by the hour to jump on for a ride that’s both a great exercise and a great help to beekeepers. Though still in the early stages, Allen has sold four devices so far and has plans to expand sales in 2019. The bike currently retails for $2,000. She’s most excited for how her invention allows beekeepers of all ages – kids, adults and even aging beekeepers or those with physical limitations – to take part in the process.

We hope you enjoyed learning about the awesome new tech that’s in the works for bees and those who keep them – and for growers, too! Now that you know to look for it, we hope you’ll keep an eye out for more pollinator prototypes and be inspired by the exciting innovation happening within our industry.