Keeping an eye on bee life cycles is a brilliant example of how Raspberry Pi sensors help us understand the world around us, says Rosie Hattersley
Getting to design and build things for a living sounds like a dream job, especially if it also involves Raspberry Pi and wildlife. Glyn Hudson has always enjoyed making things and set up a company manufacturing open-source energy monitoring tools shortly after graduating from university. With access to several hives at his keen apiarist parents’ garden in Snowdonia, Glyn set up BeeMonitor using some of the tools he used at work to track the beehives’ inhabitants.
“The aim of the project was to put together a system to monitor the health of a bee colony by monitoring the temperature and humidity inside and outside the hive over multiple years,” explains Glyn. “Bees need all the help and love they can get at the moment and without them pollinating our plants, weíd struggle to grow crops. They maintain a 34∞C core brood temperature (± 0.5∞C) even when the ambient temperature drops below freezing. Maintaining this temperature when a brood is present is a key indicator of colony health.”
Wi-Fi not spot
BeeMonitor has been tracking the hives’ population since 2012 and is one of the earliest examples of a Raspberry Pi project. Glyn built most of the parts for BeeMonitor himself. Open-source software developed for the OpenEnergyMonitor project provides a data-logging and graphing platform that can be viewed online.
The hives were too far from the house for WiFi to reach, so Glyn used a low-power RF sensor connected to an Arduino which was placed inside the hive to take readings. These were received by a Raspberry Pi connected to the internet.
At first, there was both a DS18B20 temperature sensor and a DHT22 humidity sensor inside the beehive, along with the Arduino (setup info can be found here). Data from these was saved to an SD card, the obvious drawback being that this didn’t display real-time data readings. In his initial setup, Glyn also had to extract and analyse the CSV data himself. “This was very time-consuming but did result in some interesting data,” he says.
Almost as soon as BeeMonitor was running successfully, Glyn realised he wanted to make the data live on the internet. This would enable him to view live beehive data from anywhere and also allow other people to engage in the data.
“This is when Raspberry Pi came into its own,” he says. He also decided to drop the DHT22 humidity sensor. “It used a lot of power and the bees didn’t like it – they kept covering the sensor in wax! Oddly, the bees don’t seem to mind the DS218B20 temperature sensor, presumably since it’s a round metal object compared to the plastic grille of the DHT22,” notes Glyn.
The system has been running for eight years with minimal intervention and is powered by an old car battery and a small solar PV panel. Running costs are negligible: “Raspberry Pi is perfect for getting projects like this up and running quickly and reliably using very little power,” says Glyn. He chose it because of the community behind the hardware. “That was one of Raspberry Pi’s greatest assets and what attracted me to the platform, as well as the competitive price point!” The whole setup cost him about £50.
Glyn tells us we could set up a basic monitor using Raspberry Pi, a DS28B20 temperature sensor, a battery pack, and a solar panel.
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