How our IoT helps in tracking and saving the bees

How our IoT helps in tracking and saving the bees

Erik Lotte
Erik Lotte 20 Jul 2021 - 4 min read

We’re harvesting both tasty honey and valuable data from our IoT-connected beehives at our office rooftop.

Back in 2018, we decided that our empty rooftop should have an appropriate function. Since our office is on the edge of a nature reserve, the idea of keeping honey bees felt like a natural thing to do. As beekeepers, we could give back to nature, while educating ourselves about bee ecosystems that have been increasingly endangered over the years. Coincidentally, one of our designers turned out to be keeping his own honey bees. That’s when everything finally clicked into place: we were going to keep our own Triple honey bees!

Getting insights through IoT

As a tech company at our core, simply keeping bees wasn’t going to be enough for us. Our office is littered with gadgets such as 3D-printers, VR-glasses, electric scooters and gaming consoles. So when the first beehive arrived, we immediately started brainstorming about how we could make the most out of our hive. We quickly decided that a connection to the Internet of Things (IoT) was the way to go. 

What is IoT? It’s actually exactly what the name suggests: connecting everyday things to the internet using sensors and collecting data. Using small computers inside the hive housing, we’re sending data that we’re measuring to our website, so that we can see how our honey bees are doing from a distance.

We’ve set several goals regarding insights that we wanted to gather through our technology:

  • Being able to keep track to the number of bees inside the hive; 
  • Keeping track of the temperature inside the hive;
  • Keeping track of the bees moving inside the hive; 
  • Keeping track of the weight of the hive: how much honey and bees are inside?

Open-source bee tech stack

The technology that we’re currently using has been custom-made by our bee-IoT team and even though it looks complex, it’s actually quite straightforward. Most important is that we’ve made everything open-source: everything is license-free and can easily be copied, meaning even the most non-techie beekeepers can keep up! 

The center of the bee hives: the hive brain
The center of the bee hives: the hive brain

The “brain” of the hive

Essential to this project is the hive brain, a small box where all of the sensors come together. The sensor readings are sent to the internet so that we can store and read all the data. We’ve created the cast by using a 3D printer, after which we’ve added the necessary sensors inside. 

A 24/7 livestream through our webcams

Have you ever wondered what the inside of a beehive looks like? So did we, and that’s why we’ve added several webcams to the bottom two hive housings for a 24/7 livestream. This placement allows you to spectate the flight board and the opening on the right, allowing you to see the bees crawling up to the combs. Aside from the beautiful sight, this creates a unique opportunity for our employees and clients to view the hive from the inside without having to wear a suit. The livestream can be viewed on our bee website and at our office. 

A closeup of our activity meter
A closeup of our activity meter

Tracking the bees with our activity meter

Through our activity meter, we’re able to track how many bees move in and out of the hive. This allows us to observe the flight behavior of the honey bees. This strip contains a lot of inputs and outputs. Each passage has two infrared “eyes”, which measure whether the bees go inside or outside of the hive. Does the eye on the inside track first and then the eye on the outside? Then the bee goes outside. If it’s the other way around, we know that the bee enters the hive. This way we know the exact number of honey bees that arrive and leave the hive. We can even tell how many bees are currently looking for honey.

Our bees on the window sensors
Our bees on the window sensors

Keeping track of our bees’ health

How are our Triple bees doing? We’re able to answer this question by measuring the temperature and humidity of the hive using sensors that we’ve installed at the center of the hive. Keeping track of the temperature gives us insights into the health of the bees, whether the hive is still warm enough and if the bees are likely to survive the winter.

Constantly improving our IoBee

We’ve been constantly improving our hive-tech to learn more and more about these important creatures. We’re currently experimenting with adding weight sensors to the hives. This addition will allow us to estimate the amount of honey inside. 

Moreover, this project enables us to educate ourselves, our clients and our children. We’ve been organizing annual open-houses for children to educate them on honey bees and the process of beekeeping. When our clients drop by, we always make sure to show them our hives and to highlight the technology we’re using. Possibly the best thing about improving the bees’ life is what they’re giving back to us: we’ve been enjoying lots of Triple bee honey all year round.

If you would like to learn more about our hives, then take a look at www.wearebees.com (Dutch only). Would you like to use our IoT technology for your own beekeeping project? Then feel free to use it, as we’ve created everything as open-source technology!