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Beewise, the climate tech, AI-powered robotics company on a mission to save bees, has launched its new BeeHome 4 robotics-enabled home for bees.
It’s part of an effort to save bee colonies around the globe, which are declining on the order of 35% per year.
The new BeeHome 4 is both smaller and lighter than previous iterations, fits on a conventional forklift, and fits into existing beekeeping workflows by accommodating standard bee hive frames. These new design features will increase hive mobility, enabling farmers to effortlessly care for millions of bees and ensure seasonal crop pollination.
Each home can house around 10 colonies of bees. The whole point is to come up with a solution that works on a global scale, said Saar Safra, CEO and cofounder of Beewise, in an interview with VentureBeat.
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Safra and Eliyah Radzyner, head of product and a veteran beekeeper, started the Oakland, California-based Beewise in 2018. Radzyner wondered how there was still no real technology pushing a solution for the ongoing bee problem and others were still working with wooden boxes.
“That was the inspiration, and we joined forces,” Safra said.
Their mission is to save the pollinators that are vital to life on our planet: bees. While bees have thrived for millions of years, climate change, especially the extreme weather conditions caused by it, as well as other threats like Varroa mites are causing bee colony losses every year.
These stressors are exacerbating the challenges, skilled labor shortages and high transportation costs, that beekeepers are already facing. The newly updated BeeHome 4 is a sustainable solution for pollinating crops and supporting bee colonies.
BeeHome 4 helps beekeepers pollinate and produce honey all while protecting their bees; the holistic solution provides advanced hardware for bees in the field and software for beekeepers and growers to manage operations from their desk or mobile phone. When compared to traditional beehives, BeeHomes reduced bee mortality by 80%, which has resulted in increased yields of at least 50%, while reducing manual labor needs by about 90%, said Safra.
The new BeeHome 4 product is the 20th version that the company has worked on, and it has made strides in miniaturization, affordability, flexibility and manufacturing ease.
Another company, Israel-based BloomX, is trying to do biomimicry, replacing the bees with other solutions. (Reminds me of the Black Mirror episode with artificial bees, but AI-based drone bees still require a lot of power).
But Beewise is focused on trying to save the populations of bees that are already present in nature. And bees cost about a thousandth of one cent at the moment and can fly for 12 hours a day. A single bee can fly for miles and miles and pollinate 1,000 flowers a day.
BeeHomes seamlessly detect fatal threats to a honeybee colony including pesticides and the presence of pests, and immediately defends against them. Its automatic robotic system responds to threats in real time and requires almost no human intervention. It can, for instance, shut down the hive if it detects pesticide, so the pesticide cannot get inside the hive.
In addition to protecting and defending, Beewise affirmatively helps honey bees thrive and flourish by reversing the trend of colony collapse. To help combat the detrimental effects of climate change on bees, BeeHomes are thermally regulated. They can protect from fires, flooding, and Asian Wasps (murder hornets); and provide enhanced feeding techniques for when bees’ food supply is not readily available.
Beewise solves the three main challenges that prevent beekeepers from helping bees deal with stressors effectively:
- The distance gap: Hives are situated far apart from each other and from beekeepers, sometimes hundreds of miles away. As a result, beekeepers spend most of their time traveling to and from hives—sometimes up to 60% of their time.
- The time gap: Because of the distance, beekeepers typically visit their hives every few weeks. So, hives are treated in broad strokes, rather than with precise solutions. Beekeepers are rarely able to treat a problem just in time—oftentimes they’re too late.
- The experience gap: Commercial beekeepers manage thousands of hives—a typical medium-sized US beekeeper has a few thousands of hives, with a labor ratio of one person per several hundred hives. This leads to generalized care that is not necessarily done by an experienced beekeeper.
“We’ve listened to beekeepers and growers, and BeeHome 4, is the culmination of their feedback,” said Safra. “BeeHome 4 is the perfect “vaccine” for colony collapse disorder and is optimized to save bees and address the needs of growers and beekeepers, at scale. Despite unfounded claims to the contrary, saving bees is not achievable with invalidated IoT sensors; it requires significant technology addressing the root issue: the adverse effects of global warming and urbanization on the bee population. The newly released Beehome 4 makes significant strides towards the mission of saving the world’s bees.”
Inside the hive, a robotics system monitors the needs of the hive 24 hours a day and it addresses the bees needs in real time. It also allows beekeepers to work remotely, monitoring conditions from afar.
“When you’re losing 35% of bees every year, it’s not a small thing that needs to be done,” Safra said. “You have to think about it radically and really tackle the problem at the root cause. Why are bees declining?”
Making it scalable
Smaller solutions are plentiful but not scalable. We rely on bees to pollinate roughly 75% of all crops. The decline of bee populations is happening in spite of corporate farming efforts to increase bee populations in areas where they are needed as a time when the human population keeps growing.
“A lot of projects that try to tackle the bees, from school kids all the way to scientists, but the problem is the scale. If you can solve a problem with one hive, it doesn’t help because today there are about 100 million bee hives on the planet and you really have to build something that can easily replicate and scale,” Safra said. “Bees are a really important asset to human beings and our global food supply.”
That’s why the robotics work. And since the BeeHome 4 works 24 hours a day, it can come up with solutions in a timely way. If bees get in trouble, they can’t wait for a farm worker to come and check up on what’s going wrong. The company can also scale up its manufacturing faster.
The company has 170 people, mostly in research and development in Oakland and Israel. To date, it has raised $120 million. Most competitors retrofit wooden boxes for traditional hives, adding sensors and other improvements. Beewise is hiring.
Safra said the company doesn’t sell the BeeHome 4 and other devices. Rather, it provides them as part of a regular beekeeping service for farmers, who rent its services. Those farmers already have pollination budgets built into their plans.
Dealing with pesticides
Climate change is one issue. A lack of food sources for bees is another, as monoculture farms that grow only one type of crop aren’t good for bees because they produce food for the bees — flowers — only one time per year. There are pesticides and bee predators that also amplify the problem.
“There are a plethora of issues that amplify each other like pesticides that are being used in the fields that are killing the bees and climate change,” Safra said. “We build a device that identifies a need that the bees have and it can address it. So for example, there’s a food container inside this device. And if the bees are hungry, there’s not enough food outside, it actually gives them some food.”
The device shuts down if it figures out there are pesticides that are harmful in the field.
“It treats pests, it treats disease, it treats temperature,” Safra said. “If it’s too cold or too warm outside, it can thermal-regulate for the benefit of the bees. So we really took all the issues they experienced and we automated them and streamlined them in a box with robotics and a lot of artificial intelligence. And the results are incredible.”
On the problem of pesticides, Safra noted that pests can be threatening to crops and bees alike. But killing the pests often hurts the bees, and so the hive can be shut down so the pesticides don’t come into it. Bees can stay inside the hive for three months, which is not a problem during the winter.
“It really saves a lot of the colonies from collapsing,” Safra said.
The company ends up with excess honey in its machines, and so it sells that off to honey producers. But that’s not as important as its main mission.
“We’re doing our small part to try and save the biggest numbers,” Safra said. “When we founded the company, we thought we should focus on a machine that helps save the bees, getting at the root cause of climate change. But with two founders from a small town in Israel, we figured we were probably better off trying to help save the bees rather than stop climate change altogether because that’s probably harder to do.”
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