Keeping bees buzzing

23 October 2018

Interview with

John Abel, Vice-President of Cloud Technology for Oracle UK, Ireland and Israel

Bees are critical to our continued existence. They pollinate our food, taking pollen from one plant to another, allowing them to reproduce. Without them, humanity would, quite frankly, begin to starve. So anything that helps them is welcome. A company called Oracle technology, in conjunction with the World Bee Project, have created a system that pools the data of sensors into one, big, accurate database, keeping beekeepers up to date - talk about a hive mind! Adam Murphy spoke to John Abel, Vice-President of Cloud Technology for Oracle UK, Ireland and Israel. Turns out we have a lot to thank bees for!

John - If you look at the world we have today, the critical element is food for the growing population. One third of our food is actually down to pollination and the pollinators. The honey bees is one of the key resources that do pollination. The problem is in England alone between 1985 and 2005 there’s been 54 percent reduction in those pollinators.

Adam - And could you tell us then about the tech you’ve developed to help them out?

John - So on our hives that we have here at Oracle, Reading, we have the ability to capture sound, we have the ability to capture humidity, the weight of the hive, and also we can look at the external factors like weather and rain. What this means is the ecosystem of the hive, specifically sound which is the exciting one, we’re capturing and putting to the Oracle cloud.

If you think about it, two hives give us a good set of data. But more and more hives that add on top of the World Bee Project hive network allow us to grow an ecosystem where we start seeing on mass how hives are happy or unhappy depending on the environment they live in. So we can start seeing very quickly how to inform the beekeeper of where to place the hives for the best impact to yield great honey, but also to have great pollination.

Adam - How do we get from the data you have to actually helping the beekeeper? How do we apply the results that these sensors give us?

John - What happens in the first instance is we can give scientists data on mass, and using this new technology we can start looking for patterns in the data. So we could start actually indicating to multiple beekeepers is there a threat in your area? So it could be there’s a hive in the area that's been attacked by Asian hornets so it would be good to inform other beekeepers that’s happening somewhere else so they can be ready to react. Maybe there’s a disease, so again, informing other beekeepers there’s a disease means they’re ready to act.

We can intelligently tell the beekeeper about what’s happening around them or around the hives in their area. We can also tell them about their hive if someone is, let’s say, lifting the lid when they’re not there because the weight sensor will have a drop of weight. We can tell from the sound if the bees are going to swarm, which means they could leave the hive. This can instantly be passed to the beekeeper. And also, when people do building applications for new blocks of offices like the one I’m standing in at the moment, in the future we can give them what’s the ecosystem that will benefit pollination. So there’s huge ramifications for this data to be shared and used for growing our food resources, protecting the bees, and making our landscape a lot more eco friendly.

Adam - Does this sensor when it goes on the hive, does it bother the bees at all - is it intrusive?

John - I mean it’s the size of a matchstick if you think of the end of it, so it’s very small. The bees don’t really know what it is, it’s so in the corner.

Adam - Is it expensive this system or can anyone feasibly get it for their beehive?

John - Compared to the cost of the hive they’re actually a lower cost than you think. And actually we hope, as people get more and more into this scheme that they start adding their data onto the Oracle cloud, it will come down in unit price.

One of the other things that I have a personal vision for is, wouldn’t it be fantastic if schools had the ability to create their own Raspberry Pis or micro bits, and they worked with their local beekeepers to put their own sensors on there and add their own devices. A lot of these are very low cost to acquire. You could build it with a small amount of knowledge and that would be a great way to collaborate and, obviously, people being educated into why pollination and the pollinators are so important.

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