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Intel uses RFID tags to monitor bee activity

Steve Rogerson
August 26, 2015
Researchers plan to put Intel Edison boards in beehives worldwide to monitor activity. The bees will wear tiny RFID tags and the small boards will act as checkpoints to collect data when the bees pass by.
The research will be used to help protect the honey bees, which pollinate one third of food that humans consume. The research was announced in collaboration with CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency.
The Edison Breakout Board kit, a customisable compute platform slightly larger than a postage stamp, will be distributed by CSIRO to research partners worldwide in the form of a bee micro-sensor kit as part of the Global Initiative for Honey bee Health (GIHH). Included in the micro-sensor kit, the Edison board will be placed inside beehives to monitor bee activity via tiny RFID tags that are placed on the bees’ backs.
The sensors work in a similar way to a vehicle’s e-tag, recording when the insect passes the Edison board as the checkpoint. Data captured by the RFID tag reader and additional environmental sensors attached to the board will provide information to beekeepers, primary producers, industry groups and governments. This information will inform how best to protect the honey bee health population, which humans rely on to pollinate one third of the food they consume.
“Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, predicted the number of transistors on a computer chip would double every year,” said David Mellers, sales director of Intel Australia and New Zealand. “This prediction became a driving force for the industry, enabling us to continuously shrink technology and make it more power efficient. This in turn allowed us to rethink where and in what situations computing is possible. Moore’s Law doesn’t just drive technological change, it also creates huge economic value and social advancement, and this implementation of technology as part of the GIHH highlights just that.”
The kit captures data from the hive and sends the information remotely to CSIRO’s data access portal. Researchers use the signals from the sensors attached to the Edison to build a 3D model and visualise how the bees may be moving through the landscape. This gives researchers insights into bee movement, behaviours and responses to stressors that affect bee health and pollination.
“Bee colonies are collapsing around the world and we don’t know why,” said Paulo de Souzafrom CSIRO. “Due to the urgent and global nature of this issue, we saw the need to develop a methodology that any scientist could easily deploy. This way we can share and compare data from around the world to collaboratively investigate bee health. This united effort is a fantastic example of the internet of things. The Intel Edison Breakout Board kit is the perfect platform for this type of research. It’s incredibly reliable, small in size, flexible with programming, and has low power consumption. It’s also easily customisable which means that if a scientist has a sensor they would like to add, they can virtually plug in and play.”
In addition to monitoring bee activity, the board will also gather environmental information, including humidity surrounding the hive, temperature and solar radiation.
This methodology was initially used by the CSIRO in Hobart, Tasmania, where more than 10,000 sensors are now fitted to the backs of bees. Following on from the success of that project, the CSIRO is now seeking collaboration from across the world to make this a global research effort.
Led by CSIRO, the GIHH is an international alliance of researchers, beekeepers, farmers, industry and other technology companies that aims to understand the drivers of colony collapse disorder (CCD), a condition decimating honey bee populations worldwide.
The GIHH will provide members with micro-sensor kits to integrate into their research programmes and investigate, in a coordinated way, the many factors that influence hive health. The CSIRO will analyse the data to understand optimal productivity conditions and further its knowledge of CCD.