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World Bee Project - The Connected Hive & The Future of Farming
Imagine a world without bees. It would just mean we’d have to do without honey, right? Well, it’s
more complicated than that. In fact, only one type of bee makes honey – the aptly named “Honey
(N.B., The beer is a bit gratuitous – but it is named after the “waggle dance” which a bee uses to
communicate the location of food sources to the other bees – amongst other things. We might still
have beer because barley and hops are mainly pollinated by the wind but we wouldn’t have honey
Another way to look at this. On its own, a stone is just a stone…
…but place it in a specific place in an archway and it becomes a keystone. We can visualise that
physically but when you look at the definition of a keystone you get phrases like “…locking the whole
together” and “…on which all else depends”.
Bees are a keystone species in a similar way and what they and other pollinators do is a keystone
”. There are, in fact, over 20,00 different species of bee – that’s more than there are species of
Bees are also a type of animal know as a “pollinator” because they pollinate plants and help them to
So, to put the importance of bees in the right context, consider that 77% of all food that we eat
depends on pollination. That’s two out of every three mouthfuls of food that we eat! That equates
to up to $577B world global food produced annually.
And over 1.5B jobs worldwide depend on the production of pollinated food.
But it’s not just about food. 87% of all flowering plants also depend on pollination. So, without bees
and pollinators we’d have far fewer plants. And plants keep the soil healthy and, through the
process of photosynthesis, give us oxygen…
…and without oxygen we’re really in trouble.
So we can agree that bees have a vital role for the quality of our environment. But there’s a
problem because bees are in decline. 25% of honey bees alone have disappeared in Europe over the
past 20 to 25 years. In some areas the decline is worse – 40% reduction in the US since 2008 and a
massive 45% in the UK just in the last 8 years.
In many ways we know the reasons why (see next slide). But we don’t know all the reasons.
In the past habitats were natural and biodiversity* was common. Even through the industrial
revolution, new approaches such as crop rotation helped to drive growth without overly damaging
habitats. Over time habitats have declined and become less biodiverse as a consequence of human
activity: intensive agriculture (including monoculture farming), widespread use of pesticides and
pollution caused by waste.
So, Oracle are working with the World Bee Project to understand more the reasons for the decline
and to look at new and innovative ways to help them to achieve their goals.
This slide summarises the key areas where we are working with the WBP
Top left – to establish a global hive network of sentient hives. There are bee hives fitted with
sensors to monitor things like temperature, humidity, weight and, significantly, acoustic data as you
can tell a lot about the behaviour and health of a bee colony through he sound they make. This area
roughly splits into two:
- Volume: to enable many beekeepers and farmers globally to attach their hives to the network and
access existing insights into their bee colonies.
- Scientific: Working with the Uni of Reading to carry out a focused study on 30 hives with an expert
keeper investigating the correlation between bee health and the data being collected.
Bottom Left: Helping the WBP to establish an eco-label and “BeeMark” to guarantee that honey and
other pollinated produce come from ecologically sustainable sources. There is a Blockchain element
to this in terms of capturing, storing and sharing whatever evidence is collected through the supply
chain between different parties who don’t necessarily trust each other. There is also the use of
image recognition to capture and monitor, for example, the amount of land a farmer is setting aside
for bio-diverse plants.
Bottom right: the use of mobile technology and chatbots to share and capture data to and from
beekeepers and farmers.
Top right: Using new technology to explore the art of the possible through things like video
recognition and applying data science algorithms to the data collected.
Let’s have a look at a couple of interesting areas we are exploring.
One interesting area of bee behaviour is how they communicate using something called a “waggle
dance”. This is where bees in the hive move in a figure of eight (the video above is showing half a
full waggle dance). This dance is used, amongst other things, to direct the other bees to a source of
food where they can go to collect pollen and nectar.
If we could monitor this more regularly we could used it to check where the bees are going for food
and ensure the source is bio-diverse and sustainable.
Another interesting area is in the analysis of acoustic data to predict bee swarms.
Swarms are a perfectly natural and normal thing the bee colonies do – typically when they have run
out of room in their hive. Around two-thirds of the bees leave with the existing queen to find
another place to start a new colony leaving the remaining bees with a new queen to grow the
existing one. Sometimes, they will swarm for the wrong reasons – e.g. when they are under threat
or unhealthy and, particularly if this is during the winter, this could be very dangerous. Even if it is a
natural swarm, the beekeeper will probably want to capture the swarm and start a colony in a new
hive thus increasing the amount of honey they can produce and the amount of crops they can
You can get up to 21 days notice of a possible swarm through analyzing the acoustic data coming off
the hive. The above slide shows on the left (compared to a stable hive in the right) how there is an
increase in the volume of low frequency noise over the 21 days – a noise known as a “Warble”. Here
we are using Oracle Analytics Cloud to analyse historic data.
We have also taken that data and fed it real-time into Oracle Stream Analytics to pick up the possible
swarm and send alerts to a mobile phone that a swarm is about to happen.
Looking at the BeeMark eco-label, as previously mentioned there is a blockchain element to this but
there is also a data science aspect where we can use image recognition to analyse and record, for
example, the percentage of land a farmer sets aside for biodiverse crops. In presentation mode the
above slide shows a mobile phone demonstrating the analysis of a photo to demo this.
In practice a chatbot wouldn’t be used in this context but where it comes into its own is with an
audio digital assistant attached to a beekeeping suit. (See next slide).
When a beekeeper is at a hive he is usually wearing a suit, gloves and netted hat. The use of any
technology through something like a mobile phone is difficult. However, beekeepers are excited
about the potential use of an audio chatbot using a microphone attached to the suit and connected
to their phone to both ask questions and to capture information when inspecting their hives.
These are just a few examples of some of the things Oracle are doing with the World Bee Project.
On their own, they will not be enough to reverse the decline in pollinators. The World Bee Project
believes that progress can only be made through collaboration between business, governments,
farmers & growers and the general public. Through our work in this project, Oracle aims to make