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It is impossible to overstate the importance of pollination in a human ecosystem. More than 80 percent of global food production is one way or another dependant on pollination. There are over 20,000 bee species in the world that in the last decade had an annual hive loss of 30 percent. Climate change, epidemics, and human interference kill bees. What is the solution to the issue and can bees become mechanical tools?
“Bees are reaching their tipping point because they are expected to perform in an increasingly inhospitable world,” concluded Spivak in Environment Science&Technology journal. The global apiculture market shows a compound annual growth rate of 3.12%. By 2023, the market will reach the size of US$10.074 billion, increasing from US$8.378 billion in 2017. At the same time, the population of pollinators is in decline. The three major factors are diseases, hunger, and poison. Human-made environment causes bees hunger and their further distinction. Industrial agriculture practices reduce the diversity of wild plants around farms and fields. Moreover, climate change affects flowering patterns and displaces plants. In addition, human bee trade and transportation of bee crops spread local viruses to the global bee population.
Weakened, sick bees are more vulnerable and less adaptive to the new environment. The third factor of spreading insecticides and other chemical elements on crops are poisoning bees. In fact, global pesticide market is to reach US$90 billion by 2023, according to Research and Markets. Thus, there is a need for avoiding harm for pollinators and promote their health.
IoT sensors and network are set to help people to monitor and extend plant diversity. According to Bain & Co, the total spending on smart, connected devices and related services for the Internet of Things could total US$520 billion by 2021. A case study for the Pendjari National Park in Benin, Africa shows an example of protecting preserving areas using a connected digital network.
UK charity Smart Earth Network and IoT consultancy Eridanis develop an IoT-based solution “Digital Maturity Model”. By utilizing a new generation of digital communication infrastructure around the part, ecologists can conduct animal population census and habitat change surveys. Drones, acoustic sensors, and cameras are connected to the cloud-based storage enabling real-time information access. At the same time, the technical vision monitors tourist activity and controls rangers actions. The project is penetrated in four phases total cost of which is one million US dollars. This framework raises the effectiveness of preserving the planet’s biodiversity. Beekeepers and farmers have an opportunity to employ similar technologies in their operations.
One of the main tasks of beekeepers is to maintain the hive in the norms of ideal temperature and certain humidity level. Also, the manual check for harvesting is labor-intensive. In order to monitor those characteristics, beekeepers have to “smoke out” pollinators from the hive and make the investigation. This action disturbs hive’s inhabitants. Thus, sensors would be one magical solution. Overall, smart agriculture market size triples on the period of time between 2016 and 2025. In 2025, the market values are expected to gain over US$15.34 billion.
There are dozens of initiatives to digitalize hives. For instance, BroodMinder allows beekeepers to upload information their hive data into the cloud and recognize data patterns. The cloud-based system allows achieving citizen science in real-time. The challenge was to create a hardware that is able to accurately measure the temperature and humidity levels. BroodMinder had to recall their first product to make some adjustments and find better sensors. In addition to IoT solution, the company intends to gather data from 10,000 hives and enable deep data analysis. Moreover, beekeepers will be able to compare own data with their colleagues. It will allow creating a global community of the beekeeping world.
to feed the Earth
In the age of technology, humanity looks for robots to save the situation. In 2013, Harvard University researchers presented insect-size robots that could have a potential to perform as bees. Those mini-robots are able to lift from the ground and hover in mid-air. While the mechanical creature needs to be attached by wire to power, the invention started a wave of new developments in bee-robotics.
While an actual artificial pollination is not yet possible, robo-bees can benefit from studying the communication of bees in a hive. A five-year European research initiative called FOCAS investigates the ways social animals communicate. Their robots interact with bees and modify their behavior. It is possible that future pollinators will be able to live with robots changing the beekeepers’ lives. Robots integrated into insects communities can preserve distinctive species and contribute to biomedical research. Can there be a future of managing domestic animals with low stress?
Meanwhile, researchers from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands are looking for a more long-term solution. Robohouse intends to create a swarm of bee-like drones that are able to pollinate plants. At the moment, DelFly’s wings move 17 times per second and can stay airborne. Matěj Karásek, a researcher working on the project, said: “The use we see for this is pollination in greenhouses. The bee is under threat due to our farming methods and we don’t know what their future will be. This is one solution.”