BroodMinder: Using IoT to save the bees

About BroodMinder

BroodMinder aims to engage the beekeeping community and citizen scientists by providing simple, accurate, and affordable sensors for beehives. By performing simple uniform management on thousands of hives, the beekeeping community will gain insights into hive distress and develop interventions to improve hive outcomes.

Industries: Agriculture
Location: United States

BroodMinder uses Google Cloud Platform to manage its beehive tracking sensors and improve how beekeepers manage the health of their bees.

Google Cloud Results

  • Accelerates rolling out updates from nearly 45 minutes to under 10 minutes
  • Simplifies workflows with Firebase and Cloud Firestore integrations, eliminating the need for custom database access APIs
  • Establishes BroodMinder as world's largest collection of honeybee health data through Cloud Firestore database

Database can now collect 8M monthly data points

Environmental observers have long been alarmed at the unprecedented rate of bee deaths due to issues including changing environmental conditions and Colony Collapse Disorder. According to the Bee Informed Partnership research organization, U.S. beekeepers lost 40.1 percent of their colonies in 2018 compared to a projected acceptable colony loss of around 20 percent. Bee health is a bellwether for surrounding environmental health among researchers, since cross-pollinated crops account for nearly 30 percent of the world's crops according to the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council. Because bees play a vital role in helping environmental ecosystems properly function, abnormally high bee death rates could have drastic effects on the global food supply.

"These statistics drive us crazy," says Rich Morris, Founder and CEO at BroodMinder. "They also motivate our team to measure, analyze, and optimize to solve the problem. It all begins with thousands of citizen scientists measuring their beehives."

"BroodMinder hardware and Google help beekeepers better understand hive conditions and figure out the best possible care strategy to fight against bee losses."

Rich Morris, Founder and CEO, BroodMinder

One of the more difficult parts of beekeeping can be understanding colony needs without disturbing them too often, which disrupts hive health and bee productivity. BroodMinder sensors monitor hive performance without requiring beekeepers to physically access hive frames. As BroodMinder data is leveraged by beekeepers to better understand bee death rates and larger environmental trends, the company wanted to improve its platform's database processing to facilitate research insights.

BroodMinder uses Google Cloud Platform (GCP) to provide every beekeeper with real-time visibility into their hives, allowing them to better see the connections between bee health and the surrounding hive environment. The BroodMinder sensors are small-scale devices that mount inside and underneath hives to monitor metrics including colony or external temperature, humidity, and hive weight from honey and brood yields. By tracking these metrics, beekeepers can understand hive activity without physically disrupting hives and adjust their care strategy accordingly to give their bees the healthiest living conditions.

"My family has worked in agriculture for over 30 years and I've seen how technology has impacted them," says Rich. "BroodMinder hardware and Google help beekeepers better understand hive conditions and figure out the best possible care strategy to fight against bee losses. For example, with our internal sensors, it is quite apparent when the colony is raising baby bees since they regulate the temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Honeybees only live roughly six weeks during the summer so it is vital to ensure that new bees are being raised. It's been wonderful to have this technology available. There is a lot of need for this among beekeepers."

Cloud Firestore is currently the main database for logging hive data, while Firebase supports the MyBroodMinder web app for data viewing and configuration. Customers use MyBroodMinder to analyze their data and compare it with other hives in their area. Developing its web app on Firebase allowed for quicker development without having to heavily invest in on-premises hardware and helps BroodMinder share data in a quick, highly secure, and user-friendly way with its customers. Because BroodMinder customers are generally gardeners and local beekeepers with non-technical backgrounds, Firebase development tools help ensure that they can access and fully understand the data produced by BroodMinder sensors.

"As a developer, the ease of using Google Cloud Platform has been valuable. If I want to work with new data or develop triggers, I can try it out and the ability to adapt and try out new ideas is much easier."

Amanda Stoltz, Software Engineer, BroodMinder.

BroodMinder uses Firebase Authentication to remove the burden of storing user credentials, allowing for an easy and quick transition to accepted authentication standards. Using administrator tools within Firebase Authentication also allows BroodMinder to import existing users and add custom claims for specific infrastructure needs, along with developing triggers to keep its user store in sync. BroodMinder uses Firebase Hosting to host its angular web app, which integrates well with Firebase Authentication.

App Engine supports mobile app, legacy app, and front-end API administration, while Cloud CDN accelerates content delivery. On the back-end, MySQL on Compute Engine and Cloud Load Balancing offer flexible infrastructure management. Cloud Pub/Sub and Cloud Functions help with data processing and API support for complicated queries. BroodMinder staffers also use G Suite for daily work and the company is exploring using BigQuery alongside Firestore for additional database resources.

"As a developer, the ease of using Google Cloud Platform has been valuable," says Amanda Stoltz, Software Engineer at BroodMinder. "If I want to work with new data or develop triggers, I can try it out and the ability to adapt and try out new ideas is much easier."

For BroodMinder customers, such as commercial operators that can have thousands of hives, BroodMinder tracking remotely gives them a full picture of hive performance and reduces the amount of manpower they need for hive upkeep. Beekeeping traditionally had to be a mix of knowledge and intuition, as hives are sealed-off containers with no visibility, and beekeepers needed to time their inspections without disrupting the colonies. Frequent frame inspections can agitate bees and cause hive damage. But at the same time, beekeepers still need to regularly monitor internal hive performance.

One BroodMinder customer previously lost 500 pounds of honey because her hives, located nearly one hour from her home, were working longer than anticipated. Unaware the hives were still producing honey, she was not able to collect this yield before it became unsellable. With real-time remote monitoring that utilizes GCP, she can easily see that the honey flow is still on and make the trip to add more room in the hives for honey.

"In an IoT environment, every single piece of data is important. We can't have any downtime or be missing data. Google Cloud Platform gives BroodMinder performance and reliability. We're just scratching the surface of what we can do with Google, and we're excited about giving beekeepers valuable hive data that allows them to provide the best possible care to their bees."

Dave Strickler, CEO, Bee Counted

GCP gives BroodMinder the ability to deliver a product that provides a low barrier to entry for beekeepers of any expertise. GCP solutions including App Engine and Compute Engine, in close integration with Firebase, support platform uptime along with fast front-end page loading speeds. Streamlined GCP administration resources change tasks such as update rollouts from an after-hours project that required hours of preparation to something that can be finished in minutes.

BroodMinder also created Bee Counted, a 501(c)(3) research platform that plays a vital role in the company's larger environmental mission of improving beekeeper knowledge and fighting against bee deaths. Bee Counted is a non-profit platform that collects hive data from BroodMinder devices that can be pulled and used by researchers looking to help save the bees. By leveraging BroodMinder and the Bee Counted worldwide beehive database, beekeepers have a repository of data that allows them to understand the environmental conditions that contribute to beehive growth and failure.

"In an IoT environment, every single piece of data is important," says Dave Strickler, CEO at Bee Counted. "We can't have any downtime or be missing data. Google Cloud Platform gives BroodMinder performance and reliability. We're just scratching the surface of what we can do with Google, and we're excited about giving beekeepers valuable hive data that allows them to provide the best possible care to their bees."

As part of the Google Cloud Data Solutions for Change program, Bee Counted uses solutions including GCP to create actionable and predictive data at scale that allows beekeepers and entomologists to produce the healthiest hives and reduce bee deaths. Partner researchers at major universities around the world use Bee Counted data and charts to track local honey bee productivity, foraging availability, and hive health. For beekeepers, it is vital to have lots of bees when local blooming begins. Critical information such as the timing of brood rearing relative to the local honey flow, climate, and location are changing the way BroodMinder customers manage their bees.

Honey Bee Productivity
Weight graphs from two hives located only 4 miles apart demonstrate how environmental factors and the availability of forage can affect hive productivity.
Weight graphs from two hives located only 4 miles apart demonstrate how environmental factors and the availability of forage can affect hive productivity.

Data Solutions for Change

Bee Counted participated in Data Solutions for Change, a Google data analytics program for nonprofits to achieve their missions at scale. As a participant, Bee Counted received Google Cloud credits, self-training resources, and enablement support.

About BroodMinder

BroodMinder aims to engage the beekeeping community and citizen scientists by providing simple, accurate, and affordable sensors for beehives. By performing simple uniform management on thousands of hives, the beekeeping community will gain insights into hive distress and develop interventions to improve hive outcomes.

Industries: Agriculture
Location: United States