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Robot beekeepers could help pollinators prosper in a warming world

As our world becomes warmer, we’re losing bee colonies at an unprecedented rate and our global food supplies could soon be under major threat. Preparing for the worst, Israeli start-up Beewise is already rearing its own hives using state-of-the-art AI tech.

May 20, the fifth annual World Bee Day, was less about celebrating our remarkable pollinators and more about raising awareness.

The insect apocalypse is something both climate experts and conservationists are taking increasingly seriously – with reports suggesting declining rates could see a third of all miniature creatures disappear entirely by the end of the century.

When it comes to bees, we’re massively reliant on their prosperity to maintain global food distribution. Literally 30% of all food produce can be traced back to their pollination including 71% of vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

That’s roughly between $325bn and $577bn in GDP annually, and it’s conceivably at risk of being compromised by intensive agriculture, pollution, disease, pesticides, and climate change.

Dependent as we are on these tiny custodians, they’re now (more than ever) in need of our intervention to keep them around in the long term, and we should feel indebted to do so.

On that front, there are some seriously sophisticated beekeeping efforts underway which could provide the blueprint to reducing global mortality rates. The pick of the bunch, comes from Israeli tech start-up Beewise.

Beewise’s robotic AI controlled hives

There are endless jokes on the tip of my tongue about thinking ‘outside the box’ and ‘the bee’s knees’ but I’ll you spare you them. Suffice to say, this is brilliant.

Beewise has designed an artificial incubator of sorts which allows bees to thrive and multiply under perfect conditions.

The company’s flagship product is dubbed the ‘Beehome’ – a 12-square-metre container with the capacity to house 2 million bees and 24 hives.

Built meticulously with precision robotics, computer vision, and AI, it allows for what CEO Saar Safra calls ‘beekeeping at scale.’ Oh, and it runs on solar energy too.

Autonomously, the modernised beehive uses neural networks to monitor for the presence of pesticides or pests, and is regulating each intricate habitat around the clock without the need for human intervention.

Threats can be neutralised remotely before any problem escalates, and the device can also dispense sugar, water, medicine, and even extract honey bang on cue.

Through detailed real-time data analytics, each Beehome ‘knows what the bees need,’ says Operations Director Netaly Harari, all but eliminating the possibility of human error and allowing for way more bees to be kept at any one time.

‘Our results speak for themselves. Beehome reduces bee mortality by 80% – from 35% colony loss in the field, to less than 8% – resulting in increased yields of at least 50%,’ Safra says.

Credit: Beewise

‘And Beehome eliminates approximately 90% of manual labour compared to traditional beehives,’ she adds.

A hundred of these robotic hives have already been deployed in Israel and a dozen or so within the United States. Its latest funding round, which brings the overall total to $120m will also likely see the Beehome break into European markets in the near future.

We’ve already seen AI be deployed to increase productivity in the farming industry, and to hone our conservation efforts of coral, but this is a whole new level of ambitious.

If the technology becomes widely accessible globally, there’s hope that regional bee populations may be relatively unscathed by the bumpy roads ahead.