In a report on the internet of things (IoT) released in 2014, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor Mark Walport warned against “trivialising” the potential applications of the IoT.
Walport said talk of intelligent fridges that can order fresh milk online and washing machines that book their own repair jobs was damaging to this fledgling industry, and distracted attention from the true value of the IoT – improving the standard of living for everybody, not just those that can afford a connected microwave.
But now, the IoT may have found a key use case study in the fight against Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the devastating condition that has decimated honeybee populations worldwide. The IoT may not only be on the verge of saving the honeybee, but humanity itself.
CCD occurs when most of the worker bees living in a colony vanish, leaving behind food and a small cohort of bees to care for both the immature larvae and their abandoned queen.
In the US, the crisis has become so severe that every spring millions of bees have to be bred and shipped to California, where 80% of the world's almonds are grown, simply to pollinate a single crop.
If the honeybee was to become extinct, it would have devastating consequences for the agricultural industry, which would no longer be able feed the human population of more than seven billion people. In short, without bees, many millions – if not billions – of people could die.
One of the main causes of CCD has already been identified as the presence of a mite named Varroa destructor. The mite is only able to reproduce in colonies of European honeybees/Apis mellifera and Asiatic honeybees/Apis cerana.
Varroa mites feed on haemolymph, which is the equivalent of blood in mammals and is found in all insects. They transfer a number of viruses to the bees, including the ominously named deformed wing virus, which is an RNA virus – a fast evolving group of viruses that includes Ebola and SARS. Should a major mite infestation occur, the colony would likely be wiped out.
Netherlands-based Gemalto specialises in digital security services and networks. It builds secure software and operating systems that are embedded in a number of connected devices or objects, including SIM cards, bank cards, tokens, electronic passports and ID cards, which are all basic components of the IoT.
Gemalto has previously been involved in environmental projects, supplying the Brazilian government with solar-powered modules to detect and alert authorities to illegal logging in the Amazon rainforest.
According to Manfred Kube, Gemalto head of marketing for M2M, the company highly values corporate social responsibility, and Kube has been keen to look for projects that put its technology to good use outside of its traditional applications around business processes and logistics.
The MiteNot project
Working alongside Spivak and Eltopia, Gemalto has assisted in the design and deployment of MiteNot, a smart beehive frame specifically designed to monitor and manage the internal temperature of the hive in which it is installed.
According to Kube, temperature is important because it can help control the mite problem. “When you heat up the beehive at the right time of the mite breeding cycle, you can effectively sterilise them and keep them under control.”
“However, this process must be closely monitored, and because beehives are often remote and certainly have no Wi-Fi, M2M came to mind,” says Kube.
MiteNot is an entirely biodegradable and compostable frame – essentially a screen-printed circuit composed of renewable resources, such as cornstarch, and covered in wax. It is camouflaged and discretely designed to act like a traditional frame a beekeeper might use for bee reproduction.
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