Beehives get Intel inside

RFID tags attached to bees in an effort to understand colony collapse disorder

The CSIRO is leading a hi-tech study into maladies affecting increasing number of bee colonies around the world.

The Global Initiative for Honey Bee Health is studying colony collapse disorder (CCD), which involves a colony suddenly losing most of its worker bees, and Varroa mites, a parasite that attacks bees.

Along with Australian researchers, scientists from New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico and the UK are participating in the GIHH.

As part of the project, researchers are attaching RFID-based tags to bees in colonies being studied. The 2.5x2.5mm tags weigh 5.4mg and are glued onto the back of bees (a process that doesn't harm the bee).

The hives that are part of the study are fitted out with a diminutive single-board Intel Edison computer.

Intel is an industry partner in the project, along with Hitachi Chemical, Nissin Corporation and Vale.

The almost-postage-stamp-sized Edison-based board runs a system-on-a-chip IC that includes an Intel Atom CPU. The system supports wireless connectivity and has Linux-based firmware.

The low-power computer is hooked up to sensors that monitor environmental factors in and around the hives.

The combination of the tags and an RFID reader hooked up to the computer also allows researchers to track the movement of bees that are part of a colony.

"The tiny technology allows researchers to analyse the effects of stress factors including disease, pesticides, air pollution, water contamination, diet and extreme weather on the movements of bees and their ability to pollinate,” said Professor Paulo de Souza, CSIRO science leader.

"We're also investigating what key factors, or combination of factors, lead to bee deaths on mass. The sensors, working in partnership with Intel software, operate in a similar way to an aeroplane's black box flight recorder in that they provide us with vital information about what stress factors impact bee health."

Australia is yet to witness CCD or Varroa mites, according to the CSIRO.

"This puts Australia in a good position to act as a control group for research on this major issue that could one day become our problem too," said Dr Saul Cunningham, CSIRO pollination researcher.

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