World Bee Day 2019: What ApisProtect are doing to save our honey bees

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Innovation

Today is World Bee Day, and to celebrate, we sat down with Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy, CEO and co-founder of ApisProtect, to find out how they are using cutting-edge technology to save the honey bees.

As a member of Talent Garden and part of the Intel Edge AI Incubator on the Dublin campus, Fiona tells us why bees are so important to our world, what we can do to help and how their company is offering an innovation solution to a prevalent problem.

Can you briefly describe ApisProtect and the service you provide?

I established ApisProtect with my co-founders Dr. Pádraig Whelan and Andrew Wood in 2017. ApisProtect uses IoT technology to monitor the health of honey bees and reduce colony losses.

Our technology solution uses a unique combination of sensors to monitor honey bees in the hive. We collect temperature, humidity, CO2, sound, and movement data from a single sensor unit installed inside the hive. The data collected from these sensors provides a 24/7 early warning system for beekeepers.

How essential are bees to our world and what does the current situation look like in relation to their decline?

In many countries, up to 50% of honey bees are dying every year. A host of problems, including diseases and pests, are devastating hive populations around the globe. This not only impacts beekeepers, but also our ability to feed current and future generations. Continued losses of honey bees will impact our ability to nourish and feed the predicted 9.7 billion people on planet earth by 2050.

The UN has made the 20th of May World Bee Day to highlight the importance of honey bees and all pollinators, and their role in ensuring global food supply. One third of all of the food that we eat depends on pollinators, and there are 91 million managed beehives worldwide. A failure to address the current decline in honey bees will significantly impact us all, as they play an essential role in global food production.  

Our mission at ApisProtect, is to save the honey bees, because if we don’t take action now, we’ll lose our most important insect ally.

What small steps can people take to protect the bees?

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020 provides great tips for gardeners and community groups to help create a landscape where pollinators can survive and thrive.

In your garden, you can plant Grape Hyacinth, Broom, Allium, Bellflower, Stonecrop, Wallflower, Foxglove and lots more to help ensure your garden is pollinator friendly.

On your farm, allow hedgerows to flower. These native trees and shrubs provide forage for honey bees and pollinators – Willow, Blackthorn, Whitethorn, Wild cherry, Crab Apple and Rowan.

We can all do a small bit to help our pollinators to thrive this World Bee Day, by planting more bee friendly plants and trees.   

How was the idea for the ApisProtect born?

Following a radio interview highlighting my research during my PhD, I received phone calls from beekeepers around Ireland asking when the technology I had developed would be available for beekeepers.

This inspired me to establish ApisProtect with my co-founders Dr. Pádraig Whelan and Andrew Wood, a team with complementary backgrounds including engineering, scientific, beekeeping and commercial experience.

We are now testing our technology in four countries across the world and monitoring a variety of bee subspecies and climates.

How is technology helping and impacting your business?

The entire missions at ApisProtect is to bring technology to the beekeeping industry, to fundamentally change how it works. Our ApisMonitor Units collect temperature, humidity, CO2, sound, and movement data from a single sensor unit installed inside the hive.

The ApisMonitor Units help beekeepers to remotely monitor the health of their hives. The issue with periodic checks is that beekeepers want to monitor hives with the minimum amount of disturbance to the colony. Unfortunately, this can lead to problems within hives being missed and making it is too late for the issues to be resolved. You can have two hives next to each other and one will be fine, while the other has severe problems.

For operators with thousands of hives, manual spot checks can’t catch all of the issues. Utilising the ApisProtect solution can direct the beekeeper’s attention to the hives that need it. Our technology helps beekeepers identify which hives (out of thousands) need their immediate attention, and also helps to plan their resource use (time, materials, labour) much more effectively, leading to more productive and effective colonies.

Through machine learning technology, beekeepers will gain valuable information about their hives including the condition, activities, and productivity levels of their bees. This will save time and help beekeepers become more effective and cultivate larger, healthier colonies.

Can you tell us about any exciting projects you have coming up?

We are delighted to announce a global partnership with Inmarsat, the leading global mobile satellite communications service on World Bee Day. Partnering with Inmarsat will enable us to monitor beehives in remote locations worldwide. Many apiaries are based in remote locations and this technology will enable us to partner with beekeepers no matter how remote their location.

We will be launching our commercial product at the end of 2019, so it will be a busy year for the team.

What attracted you to Talent Garden and what has your experience been like?

We were first introduced to Talent Garden as part of the Intel Edge AI incubator, which we are currently participating in. We’re working with Intel on this programme to understand applications of Artificial Intelligence for the beekeeping industry.

We now have one of our Data Scientists based in Talent Garden, where he is working with the Intel team. It’s a fantastic co-working space, and has facilitated great networking opportunities for us.

As our main office is based in Cork, it’s great to have a base of operations when we need to travel to Dublin for meetings as well!

What is something about bees that people might not know?

One thing that most people don’t realise is that almost all bees are female. Pretty much every bee you will see flying around outside is a female worker bee.