Bee colonies are in decline worldwide. As Gizmag reported previously, this is a growing problem, and a number of theories and solutions are being explored. A team of eco-technologists from Europe and the US has come together to engineer a collaborative response to the problem, an open-source hive that can help house, track and understand the cycles movements of these vital members of the eco-system.

The campaign

The open-source beehive project was launched on Indiegogo last month and has managed to generate more than twice its original funding goal.

Backers can opt to download the plans to create two different styles of hives via CNC fabrication (the different hive models can be "printed" using a single standard sheet of plywood in about 30 minutes), or choose a pre-fabricated flat-pack hive.

Assuming all goes without a hitch, delivery is estimated to start as early as this month. Once assembled, the open-source beehive is meant to provide a "low-stress environment that allows bees to thrive."

Sensory awareness

Despite its relatively simple design, this smart beehive also includes sensors that track the temperature, humidity, movements and even the mood of the bees. The information will be used to assess the health and behavior of the colony. As it is collected, the data can be streamed via an open-source sensory kit, called the Smart Citizen kit, to an online open-data platform, which also tracks geo-location. In areas where no Wi-Fi is available, this information for individual hives can also be stored on an SD card and transmitted at a later date.

A collaborative approach

The team behind the open-source beehive includes members from FabLab Brussels, FabLab Barcelona, the University of Barcelona, Sony Computer Science Lab, Paris and participants from Denver, Colorado. It is hoped that by encouraging the public to download and erect these bee-friendly hives and by feeding the information to the open-data platform, a recovery in bee colonies can be encouraged and some of the questions around declining populations can start to be answered. The makers contrast their small, low-stress hives with large industrial farms that have been created to maximize crop production for commercial sale.

The two models available for download are a Top-Bar hive and another based on the Warré hive. The Warré is also called "the people’s hive" and its simple design is made up of a vertical stack of modules that can be added to as the bee population increases. The open-source team adapted the classic Warré model for simple CNC prefabrication using Rhino software. The Warré hive allows for the addition of units from the bottom, rather than at the top, with a maximum of five units per hive.

Honeybees are essential to food production through pollination of crops. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a condition in which all or most of the adult bees in a hive die inexplicably. It 's estimated that the US lost 31 percent of its bee population last year due to CCD, and other countries report similar statistics. Solving the mystery of CCD is key to protecting and maintaining food sources.

For the people behind the Open Source Beehive project, it is also about protecting the bees themselves. "Imagine a global network of hives all feeding into an open-source database of insights into honeybee health," says team member Jonathan Minchin. "We could be generating valuable crowd-sourced data to influence policy change. … It’s really quite exciting."

The video below shows the CNC fabrication of an open-source top-bar hive, carried out to Rimsky-Korsakov’s classic bee-inspired composition.

Sources: Open-Source Beehive project, Indiegogo