Remote Monitoring of Beehives to Improve Management and Reduce Travel Costs
2012 was a successful year for our SARE project. Although we are running behind our planned timeline, we are generating excellent data that will be of great value to the beekeeping community. Our project consisted of two main parts. First, we wanted to develop a cost-effective piece of hardware to remotely measure hive weights and wireless transmit them from distant apiaries to a central home location for analysis. This part of the project has been extremely tedious and we were running approximately a year behind but we now have a model ready that will be able to be put out in the field, and we have been able to keep the cost well below similarly priced products. Our current estimates put the hardware cost at $450 for the first hive with the ability to add additional hives at the same location for approximately $90. Each location would also require wireless access (i.e. Mobile hotspot) at an approximate cost of $25/mo. This compares to the current available technology which costs $4,000 to monitor four hives and does not have the ability to transmit or monitor the data remotely. Our technology will make this valuable data accessible to the beekeeping community which could not justify the cost of the current options, especially because there would be no savings in time or fuel. As outlined in our original proposal, this has consumed most of our grant funds so far.
The second component of our project was analysis of the data obtained from the scales to make decisions regarding when to make trips to distant apiaries. Of primary importance was determining how many colonies needed to be monitored in a given location to make informed judgments about what is going on at that location. We have had more success in this area because we have been able to collect weight measures in our local apiary using traditional hive scales. These were paid for with our own funds.
Learned So Far
We have achieved two major goals in 2012. First, we have developed the hardware that will put this information in the hands of beekeepers across the country. Second, we have analyzed one year of data from scale hives in a local apiary to begin drawing conclusions about how many hives in a given area need to be monitored to draw conclusions about the status of other local hives.
While we will not present our results here, our preliminary findings indicate that monitoring four hives in a yard is of substantial value while monitoring eight will provide a very good look at what is going on not only in the apiary but apparently within about a 20-mile radius. These results are extremely tentative, though, because of the highly unusual summer we had. However, if additional research bears out these initial hypotheses, this increases the value of the technology even more because we didn’t expect to be able to draw conclusions over such a great distance.
Work Plan for Next Year
Our top priority for 2013 is to get our system working out in the field. This should be in place on 16 hives by the main start of the season in March or April, weather permitting. We will continue collecting data from established hives to assess the decision-making power of our monitors. We will expand this collection this year to monitor the weight of newly established hives to see if our scales can provide good information about when these little colonies are in need of more food or more room. If they do not, we will be determining at what level of development hives may be practically monitored from a remote location.
I have discussed the concept of the project and solicited feedback from a beekeeping group in Green Bay, WI (attendance 35) and Eau Claire, WI (attendance 55). In the late fall of 2013 we hope to be able to do a much more complete and confident presentation to local, state, and regional organizations, as well as either offer these products or provide information on how to create them.