A new project called EyesOnHives has beekeepers buzzing. Developed by Santa Barbara–based Keltronix, Inc., the technology uses video to monitor hive activity in order to keep track of its health. A rapid decline in the insects’ population in recent years has concerned and at times baffled scientists and bee enthusiasts.
EyesOnHives trains a camera-like device on a beehive, collecting video, counting incoming and outgoing bees, and monitoring environmental data. The information is uploaded to a cloud-based analytics platform and analyzed by Keltronix’s software, allowing the beekeeper to monitor the hive’s activity. Owners can also check out the activity of others’ hives in order to piece together trends in bee activity and crowdsource diagnoses and solutions for colonies that begin to show signs of failure.
“Santa Barbara is a really bee-friendly city,” said Keltronix founder Kelton Temby, “and so we have local regulations here that really support the environment and support the bees.”
To test its efficacy, Keltronix deployed about 16 models around town and gathered close to a year’s worth of data. The early news is promising, and EyesOnHives already saved one colony from collapse: When it noticed an abrupt and dramatic drop in the number of bees taking their first flight from the hive, the keepers were able to transport over a new queen and worker bees to resuscitate it.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 42 percent of U.S. bee colonies died in 2015, a downturn that’s occurred over the past decade. That alarming decline, which is known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), bodes poorly for U.S. agriculture, much of which is reliant on the pollinating work of honeybees. Pesticides, mites, and pathogens are all thought to contribute to CCD.
“So much of our food depends on bees, and we think this is really key to sustainable agriculture, to really stabilize bee health,” said Temby, explaining that the power to constantly monitor, share, and aggregate hive activity creates a kind of “citizen science,” where the average beekeeper can help tease out CCD’s causes and halt bees’ rapid decline. “Having an idea that the bees are healthy one week and finding them dead a week later or two weeks later — we’re closing that loop,” he said. “So now, you can see if something’s going wrong and do something about it in time.”
In November, Keltronix launched a monthlong Kickstarter campaign to raise the $8,000 needed to put 30 more EyesOnHives systems out into the field. It runs until December 18.
For more information, visit keltronixinc.com.