WHAT’S A
SMART BEEHIVE?

In 2015 I worked with multimedia artist Maximillian Lawrence to create a sensor-enhanced beehive. Max and I met at The Department of Making + Doing, a maker-space in West Philadelphia where we both volunteered. He and I initially bonded after discovering that I would be attending RISD where he had graduated in 1997 (the year I was born). Over the nine months in which we worked together, I brought my knowledge of beekeeping and industrial design and Max brought his knowledge of sensors and tech.

Together we created a hive that was capable of monitoring interior temperature, humidity, noise level, methane, alcohol, and carbon monoxide. The hive was also equipped to stream HD video and monitor overall hive weight. The project was picked up by local news sources Grid Magazine and NPR station WHYY who broadcast a story about it in August of 2015.

  1. Installation of the first version of the webcam. The camera was mounted inside a custom built wood and acrylic enclosure with an array of infrared lights. Beehives are in near total darkness most of the time, this made the infrared lights crucial. Honeybees see in the ultraviolet spectrum rendering red light invisible, this allowed us to view them without disrupting their natural environment.

     

  2. An image captured from the hive camera after installation. The goal of putting a camera inside was to have it live stream online.

     

  3. The guts of the smart hive. The sensors and cameras fed out the front of the hive and into a watertight case housing a mac mini and wireless router.

     

  4. Max and I install the second generation sensor kit. We built the sensors onto a modified frame of honeycomb which sat in the middle of the hive.

Once the hive camera was installed we used a program called Open TSPS to analyze the video being captured. Honeybees use something called the “waggle dance” to communicate the location of a food source to one another, how could a program like Open TSPS analyze something like the waggle dance? Could we use that data to tell us what flowers the bees are frequenting? Could we sell advertising space on the back of individual bees during a live stream? These are the types of questions that fueled our exploration throughout the project.