The world's bee population is threatened and their mortality is steadily increasing. In Europe, almost one-tenth of this species of insects is facing extinction according to the Red List of the IUCN. In the U.S., beekeepers lost 42% of their colonies between 2014 and 2015 alone.
The consequences of the disappearance of bees are immeasurable as they are vital for the natural development of wild ecosystems and serve as agricultural pollinators. As a matter of fact, according to a study by the University of Berkeley (USA), one-third of the food we eat depends on their pollination. In particular, the western bee, Apis mellifera, is the best known pollinator and is precisely the focus of the OSBeehives project.
Founded in 2015, this social enterprise develops software and hardware to fight for the conservation of bees. Their technology analyzes the audio frequencies generated by the bees´ humming and correlates them with their state of health through machine learning. "The time to learn the patterns of bees depends on their genetic subvariety and environmental factors. For example, if very cold, the bees won't leave the hive and the noise will be very loud all day," explains OSBeehives co-founder and communications director Tristan Copley Smith, whose initiative has made him one of the winners of Innovators Under 35 Europe from MIT Technology Review.
Among the main threats to bees lies the use of pesticides, diseases and parasites, and a huge problem known as colony collapse. This is why analyzing their health is so important. Smith details: "We are training the artificial intelligence algorithm and making constant improvements to refine the solution with the data we collect." To capture this information, he uses his BuzzBox device, a connected sensor that is placed in the hive and "monitors the health of the bees."
The information is transferred to a mobile app so that the beekeeper can react in real-time. The second version of the device, BuzzBox Mini, is the size of a smartphone so that it is easy to place in any type and size of beehive. "The ideal placement is as close as possible to the queen," Smith says. This multidisciplinary social entrepreneur is the founder of two other technology start-ups and is very focused on developing open source models for social and environmental benefits.
With more than a million audio recordings from users in more than 20 countries around the world and more than 2,000 users, OSBeehives is already working on a third iteration of BuzzBox. What distinguishes its device from others is that it is affordable and offered in open source, which contributes to faster evolution.
The inventor and entrepreneur Javier Agüera, member of the jury of Innovators Under 35 Europe 2019, believes that "the data they are collecting is of vital importance and the tools they are developing are being very well received." The competition jury and Gartner's Research Director, Erick Brethenoux, stresses that the project "solves a major global environmental problem" and highlights its multidisciplinary approach: "It's very refreshing to see this kind of technological, social and ecological intelligence at work."
By Patricia R. Guevara
Translation: Brian Bostwick