The collapse of honey-bee colonies is bad news. Seventy-four out of 100 different crop types that account for 90 percent of the global food output are pollinated by bees, but the direct cause of the phenomenon called the Colony Collapse Disorder remains unknown. Efforts are being made to bring the bee population back to a healthy level with city councils around the world encouraging the 3000 year old practice of keeping bees in cities. While not proclaiming to solve large scale crop pollination problems, Philips has turned its know-how to the equation with this futuristic concept catering for the needs of the urban beekeeper.
The Urban Beehive concept is a part of the Microbial Home Project - Philips's effort at creating a domestic ecosystem of innovative design solutions to cleaning, energy, human waste, lighting and food preservation. The house is viewed as a biological machine capable of filtering, processing and recycling what we would normally think of as waste.
The bees enter the glass pane mounted beehive via an entry tunnel located just above a welcoming pollen-filled flowerpot. On the inside the bees encounter a set of honeycomb structures that they use to lay their larvae, as well as store honey and pollen. If you'd rather not meet the bees in person, you can simply watch them toil away safe in the knowledge that there is a gradient-tinted glass barrier between you and the laborious critters (only the orange wavelength of light which is invisible to bees gets through the glass). And if you feel adventurous enough to actually remove the glass cover and collect some honey, you can calm the bees down by releasing smoke into the hive at the pull of a cord.
Philips' idea has one big advantage over the existing urban beekeeping solutions. Jason Neufeld's ceramic Bombus Shelters or the Beehouse from Omlet UK may be equally stylish and foolproof, but they have the drawback of requiring a backyard. To install the urban beehive, all you need is a window. That said, the Philips design is still at the concept stage.
Mr. Malya Peter, a beekeeper asked by Philips to evaluate some early renders of the concept, says the solution could be used for educational purposes but points out that it is not suitable for large scale honey production and that in the long run it would not be sustainable due to low mass of bees. For a sustainable colony (one that does not have to be fed with nectar) you need three kilograms of bees (one kilogram is 30 to 50 thousand insects). Also, regardless of the colony size, the hives need some maintenance at least once a year. This is not to say that the concept is unfeasible, but it may require slightly more skill and attention than the untrained amateur urban beekeepers may be able to offer.
We do see the merits of keeping bees in cities. It's a win-win situation. Bees get a cosy place to stay, the environment benefits from increased pollination, and the nature-deprived city dwellers get to observe the marvelous world of bees from their living rooms, which in itself provides great therapeutic value. And let's not forget the free honey.
It would certainly be interesting to see this idea turned into reality.