IoT project saves busy beekeepers’ time
University students win a Thrive X prize for IoT beekeeping concept that helps beekeepers
SALINAS, Calif. — A team of engineering students from Santa Clara University was honored by Thrive X at the recent Thrive AgTech demo day for their labor-saving beekeeping concept that uses the internet of things to tell beekeepers when the honey is ready for harvest. The team’s concept, HiveSpy, uses a Texas Instruments Sensortag to monitor and broadcast status of beehives to the beekeeper.
“We took a specific problem and tried to answer a very specific question,” said Navid Shaghaghi, a doctoral candidate and adjunct lecturer of computer engineering at Santa Clara University’s School of Engineering and a member of the HiveSpy team.
Beekeepers who have many hives have their work cut out for them. Each hive has multiple racks where the bees make and store honey. The honey is ready when a rack is waxed over, at which point the beekeeper needs to harvest the honey as soon as possible to stop the process called “swarming.” When all the racks in the hive have become waxed over, the queen bee will leave larvae (including a queen egg) and exit the hive with 60% of the workers — swarming. The larvae are left in the hive, eating the honey.
“In order to prevent swarming, we have to not let the bees fill the whole hive,” said Shaghaghi.
Traditionally, the beekeeper has to frequently open and check each hive to see if the honey has to be harvested on a particular rack frame within the hive, said Shaghaghi. This is done by “smoking out” the bees, so the bees remain calm while the beekeeper manually pulls out the racks. It is very labor-intensive.
HiveSpy puts a weight sensor on each rack that sends weight data to the beekeeper, who can then know which hives, and which racks within those hives, need to be harvested.
The A/D weighing sensors on each rack are connected to a microcontroller in the hive that sends the weight from the sensors to an app accessible from a tablet, computer or phone. HiveSpy’s diagram indicates it would use a TI SensorTag CC2650STK as the microcontroller and broadcasting mechanism, which supports multiple standards, including Bluetooth LowEenergy, 6LoWPAN, and ZigBee. All the MCUs in Texas Instruments’ SensorTags require little power, so designs can last “months to years,” says TI on its SensorTag page. SensorTag CC2650 comes with iOS and Android-compatible applications. The SensorTag, which costs $29 each, comes with 10 sensors, but the inexpensive weight sensors are still needed because each rack needs to be weighed.
“We ended up using a Force Sensitive Resistor (FSR) Interlink 402 (adafruit 166) [for the weight sensor],” explained Shaghaghi. “And thus one microcontroller per hive/box. We used Cypress boards for [the microcontroller] but it was an overkill. We would use an Arduino in the next iteration to reduce the complexity and cost immensely.”
The HiveSpy IoT beekeeping concept uses LoRa, Wi-Fi or cell towers based on the circumstances. If the hives are near a beekeeper’s home, Wi-Fi or other simple protocol is used to communicate between the hive and the beekeeper. If the hives are farther away from the beekeeper’s location but close to a cell tower, the hive status can be sent as an SMS message (or data packet) and visualized within a mobile or web application, says the HiveSpy video. LoRa or other longer-range protocol can be used when the hives are not near a cell tower and are also far from the beekeeper’s location.
“We made a prototype of a weight sensor sending data to a microcontroller at the hive level, which then communicated to a master microcontroller, which then communicated with a computer,” Shaghaghi told RCR Wireless News. “We have not tested it out in the field with a hive with bees in it as we would have to have one of the broadband technologies implemented for connecting the master microcontroller to the cloud. We did however, create a simple GUI for what the beekeeper would see on her end.”
Team HiveSpy consulted with a local beekeeper to understand the beekeeper’s process, such as checking each frame every day or every other day. “We also got a few props from him, like an old hive box and one frame which we used to test the weight sensor with,” said Shaghaghi.
Team HiveSpy won the $5,000 second-place prize in the THRIVE-X Challenge, which is Thrive AgTech’s university challenge that centers around a theme. This challenge’s theme was how to use technology to help farmers harvest crops when there is a labor shortage. Teams from Santa Clara University and California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo competed. The grand prize of $10,000 went to another team that came up with an ergonomic way to pick specialty crops that would protect farm workers from stooping.
The Thrive X rules say students retain all intellectual property rights to their original work. Four students worked on the project, including Navid Shaghaghi and Prathibha Matta Venkataramanappa.
At the Thrive Demo Day, Shaghaghi reported some interest from attendees of the event and “a couple of people working on LoRa were happy to provide us with development kits if we end up moving forward, and some people with potential funding sources,” he said. “If we can find interest — and funding, I suppose — we would build the whole system out using SensorTag, Arduino, and LoRa and host a cloud server with a sample UI. Meaning we would create a first working prototype deployable out into the field. I am starting to train three of my undergraduate summer research assistants on Arduino — and probably LoRa down the road — which I will then put on the project.”
A video of the project can be found here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rU96u3QNtfY