This Sensor Lets Beekeepers Catch Bees Before They Do Each Other Dirty

This Sensor Lets Beekeepers Catch Bees Before They Do Each Other Dirty
Photo: Herbert Aumann

Our friends the bees have certain behaviours that are unhealthy to the hive and scary for passersby. One behaviour, swarming, happens when a hive splits naturally with a group of bees following a new queen. This is a delicate time for the hive and could result in starved bees and a dead queen. In other words, it’s bad.

One beekeeper, Herbert M. Aumann, has a solution. His system is a small vibrational and motion sensor that attaches to the outside of a hive and transmits data on the bees’ behaviour. Beekeepers are able to split hives before swarming begins, and so this system uses the two sensors to catch the behaviour before it cascades.

“This sensor is attached to the outside of a hive, near the hive entrance,” wrote Aumann in a study in IEEE Sensors Letters. “The outward-looking sensor is a 24-GHz continuous-wave Doppler radar for monitoring bee flying activity. The inward-looking sensor is a piezoelectric transducer. Unlike a conventional microphone that would pick up the sounds bees make, the piezoelectric transducer picks up the incidental vibrations transmitted by bee activity to the hive structure.”

The system then calculates the likelihood of a swarm and notifies the beekeeper so she can keep her little yellow and black charges safe. When the bees gather before a swarming event, the sensor will sense the vibrations of the event, allowing the beekeeper to stop the activity by modifying the hive box enough to keep the bees in place. The sensor can also notify the beekeeper of robbing events when bees from outside a hive take over an entire hive and steal the honey from weaker bees.

“Since I had spent my career building radar systems for tracking small targets, I thought I could use a low-powered radar to observe bees from maybe ten feet away. Indeed I could,” Aumann told Spectrum. “Amazingly, the signals that the radar picked up could be turned into an acoustic signal that sounded exactly like the signal you would hear standing next to the beehive.”

He’s built a startup, MaineBiosensors, to produce these electronics for beekeepers who want to keep their little honey-making friends healthy and happy. He’s not selling them yet, but he expects to have consumer models soon.