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Robotic Honeycomb Monitors, Protects Bees

The design uses thermal actuators to influence bee behavior, and keep them warm in winter

Scarlett Evans

March 28, 2023

2 Min Read
Getty

A robotic honeycomb is providing new insight into bee colony behavior and even saved a hive from collapsing in the winter.

The design comes from a team of researchers from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and the University of Graz in Austria. The team has described the robotic honeycomb as providing a potential "life-support" system, providing consistent monitoring and warmth during colder months. 

Bee behavior is regulated by temperature, and the design features an array of thermal sensors and actuators to monitor and influence movement within the hive.

The team integrated the system in a beehive with 4,000 bees for several months, collecting “spatiotemporal thermal profiles” of the winter colonies. Results showed the robotic device could successfully influence the bee colony’s movement using thermal changes, and even provide life-saving warmth in the colder weeks. 

“After identifying the thermal collapse of a colony, we used the robotic system in a ‘life-support’ mode via its thermal actuators,” the team wrote.

These actuators were used to send gentle, consistent heat to the hive, with the robot monitoring hive conditions and adjusting the amount of heat delivered accordingly. 

“Ultimately, we demonstrated a robotic device capable of autonomous closed-loop interaction with a cluster comprising thousands of individual bees,” the team wrote. “Such biohybrid societies open the door to investigation of collective behaviors that necessitate observing and interacting with the animals within a complete social context, as well as for potential applications in augmenting the survivability of these pollinators crucial to our ecosystems and our food supply.”

Related:Robotic Honeybee Simulates a ‘Waggle Dance’ to Save Bee Population

The ongoing and worsening effects of climate change on bee colonies have been the topic of much concern given the reliance on these pollinators for many plants and crops in the human food supply. As a result, robotic interventions to protect colonies without disturbing their natural behavior patterns are beginning to emerge as solutions, including an AI-enabled beehive, and robotic honeybees.

About the Author(s)

Scarlett Evans

Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.

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