Removing the Sting From Beekeeping

RFID helps put an end to bee-hive thievery.
Published: August 1, 2006

Last spring, a beekeeper in northern California had 160 hives stolen from an almond tree farm one night-and the hives he replaced them with stolen the next. Almond growers need bees to pollinate almond flowers, but the decline of domesticated bee populations in the United States has created a shortage of hives. It now costs $150 to $200 to rent a hive, making them a sweet target for unscrupulous beekeepers.

A company called Bee Alert, which has worked with the U.S. Army to train bees for military applications, such as the detection of toxic chemicals, teamed with systems integration firm Integral RFID to develop Hive Sentry, an RFID antitheft system that alerts owners when hives in the field are being moved.

A 303-MHz active tag from RF Code is buried inside each hive. It beacons its unique ID every 12 seconds when the tag is stationary and every two seconds when it’s in motion. An RF Code interrogator connected to an RS232 Bluetooth adapter communicates with a PDA cell phone wirelessly; both are stored in a weatherproof box, powered by a car battery. When the interrogator detects a moving tag, it sends a text message to the owner’s cell phone. Hive Sentry, which will be available in the fall, promises to put an end to bee-napping.