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RFID, BLE Take Sting Out of Beekeeper Data Management

Beekeepers in the United States and Canada are piloting wireless technology from Montreal company Nectar to capture hourly sensor readings and related analytics regarding the health of their hives, in order to prevent the loss of bee colonies.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 03, 2019

Beekeepers face logistical and time challenges when it comes to managing the conditions of their bee hives. These companies tend to maintain thousands of hives, stored in hundreds of yards, often in rough remote terrains. To track the conditions the bees in each hive face in near-real time, Montreal-based technology company Nectar has built a solution using Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID, Bluetooth and cellular technologies.

The system—consisting of two sensor devices known as Beecons, with NFC tags and readers, Bluetooth radios, a cellular gateway and cloud-based software—enables beekeepers to receive hourly updates regarding conditions that include temperature, humidity, sound, motion, the presence of parasites or the absence of a queen in each hive, swarming activity, and honey quantity and quality. Approximately five North American bee companies are now testing the technology, says Xavier de Briey, Nectar's CTO.

The Beecon device enables beekeepers to receive hourly updates regarding the conditions of their bee hives.
By managing that data, the technology company predicts beekeepers can help to prevent the loss of colonies within their hives, and thereby not only increase honey yields, but combat the global challenge of bee population collapse. The loss of bees poses multiple economic and environmental challenges, including the lack of pollination for farmers.

The population loss rate of bees has been between 23 and 40 percent annually, according to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study. The decline's cause is not fully known, but maintaining proper temperatures and addressing the presence of parasites may prevent some losses. Temperatures that fall too low during the winter, for instance, can cause a colony to die. If a queen is lost, the colony will be lost as well.

Without the technology, beekeepers must visit sites in person and use pen and paper to manually record what they find. They can address problems that might arise in an effort to save the bees, such as introducing a new queen if one has died, or attempting to eliminate parasites from a hive. The inspections, however, are not only intermittent, but time-consuming. Between those physical inspections, de Briey says, "There's no visibility to what's happening with a hive in real time, so we provide a new paradigm with sensors and artificial intelligence."

Nectar offers software-as-a-solution (SaaS) with its own sensors to track conditions in places where beekeepers often have trouble making regular physical visits. "The value we bring to market is prevention," de Briey states. "Beekeepers today are more often only able to react when bad events are already happening." The Nectar system aims to turn that process on its head, he adds, by alerting beekeepers before a problem arises.

The solution consists of one sensor device installed in each hive. By tracking temperature and humidity levels, each unit can identify if a hive becomes too cold, a queen is missing or water is building up, while a microphone, tracking sound, identifies potential problems such as if the bees have begun swarming.

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