Using data to save bees and the sweetness of new years to come

With a single sensor, BeeHero can generate millions of data points in a beehive every day. (photo credit: BEEHERO)

By: ZACHY HENNESSEY | Published On: September 13 2023 12:37 | The Jerusalem Post

BeeHero’s use of data collection, algorithmic analysis, and insight generation is revolutionizing the world of beekeeping.

As the High Holy Day season approaches, apples and honey have once again begun to dominate our thoughts, plans, and most-used emoji lists. Indeed, honey has become so synonymous with Rosh Hashana in Jewish culture that the success of a good New Year celebration seems contingent upon a steady flow of the sweet bee product. But as we’ve been told for years now, the world’s bee population is struggling, which begs the question: What can be done to save the bees, thereby preserving the unnecessarily sticky future of New Year celebrations to come?

The Jerusalem Post uncovered a promising answer to that question during a tour of Kanot apiary in Moshav Avigdor, which is used for research conducted by BeeHero – an Israeli start-up devoted to bolstering the population and productivity of the world’s favorite pollinator, through the power of statistical insights.

The pursuit to preserve our pollinators

Entering the apiary, the first thing you’d notice is that there are bees pretty much everywhere, even inside the large warehouse that serves as the central building. Upon arrival, journalists were instructed not to swat at any of the myriad bees flitting around the room. (This, to me, seemed like unnecessary instruction, in the same way that I wouldn’t need to be told not to start badmouthing heavy metal at a Pantera concert.)

We made our way into a small air-conditioned room typically used for packaging honey and were treated to a rundown on the world’s ever-growing need for bees.

Scientific estimates underscore the critical role of animal pollinators, especially bees, in our ecosystems. Approximately 75% of flowering plants worldwide and around 35% of global food crops rely on these pollinators.

A small portion of the hives populating the Kanot apiary. Each white box houses hundreds of bees. (credit: ZACHY HENNESSEY)

While the list of pollinating animals includes wasps, hummingbirds, and even bats, the bee stands out as the only animal that can be bred and transported en masse in order to meet farmers’ pollination needs around the world. Truly there is no substitute for bee pollination; however, the continued utilization of the black and yellow fellows faces several pressing challenges.

Modern agriculture demands increased pollination for expanding fields and crops, but nature struggles to meet this demand. The global bee population is declining, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. Currently, around 40-50% of bee colonies die annually worldwide – a staggering statistic. To address this, innovative methods must be developed in order to sustain and even boost pollination, given the world’s growing crop needs.

So, the question arises: How can the agricultural industry meet the increasing demand for crop production when there are fewer bees available for pollination, despite their vital role in the process?

Numbers, who would’ve guessed?

If you said “collecting unprecedented amounts of data in order to better monitor and cultivate thriving bee populations,” you’re probably the type of person that a 1980s jock would dump into a trash can — but coincidentally you’d also fit right in at BeeHero. The company is responsible for the development of a sophisticated sensor that, when placed within an ordinary beekeeper’s beehive, constantly monitors a slew of factors like heat, sound, bee density, and even how much a given hive population is pollinating on a given day.

By collecting this data and running it through its proprietary analysis algorithms (imagine writing a tech article without mentioning that there’s AI being put to work somewhere), BeeHero’s platform is capable of generating tailored insights for beekeepers, telling them exactly what’s going on with each individual hive, at all times. Beekeepers can then quickly, precisely, and efficiently maintain thousands of hives, resulting in more happy, healthy bees that can pollinate to their little fuzzy hearts’ content – a true win-win for everyone involved.

An understanding of the previous method for tracking how beehives were doing may better contextualize the significance of the company’s solution. Before BeeHero, the best method to keep track of a beekeeper’s bees was to put on full netted garb, go out into the field, crack open about 10 hives and poke around for signs of issues, and then extrapolate how the other hundreds or thousands of hives are doing based on that sample.

As part of the apiary tour, BeeHero offered a hands-on opportunity to do just that. Suffice it to say that during the height of Israeli summer, looking at a comprehensive dataset for each hive on a tablet in an air-conditioned office is preferable to wading into a swath of bees in 30+ degree sunshine while wearing a sealed multi-layered bodysuit and hat.

The future for our fuzzy, buzzy friends

BeeHero’s solution is so innovative that it has found significant success since its inception in 2017. The company has raised over $64 million to date, and is commercially operational in the United States and Australia, with operations in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. As well, the company has earned a collection of accolades from top publications for its rapid growth and innovative approach to a global problem.

Also, the company is using the millions of daily collected data points that its sensors generate for more than exclusively profit (though they’re certainly making that as well). BeeHero is currently collaborating with several universities and organizations, including Shamir Institute at Haifa University, Hebrew University, Hohenheim University in Germany, and the United States Department of Agriculture, supplying them with an unparalleled amount of information that could potentially be used to change the trajectory of the world’s dwindling bee populations.

As I waved goodbye to the bees in the apiary (taking care to do so slowly, not to enrage my newfound friends), I reflected upon the awe-inspiring power of properly utilized data.

While one company’s efforts can surely not prevent the disappearance of an entire species on its own, BeeHero’s innovation and success are certainly promising for the future of everyone’s favorite buzzing bug – and its lovely nectar upon which so many festivities depend.