There is a lot of research going into small drones, but one of the many difficult parts keeps them in the air for some real time. Why not take a ride on something that already flies all day? It is the idea behind this project that equip humpback with sensor-folded backpacks that pick up wirelessly and collect data on the fields they visit.
A beehive full of these cyberbines can help monitor the health of a field by controlling temperature and humidity, as well as looking at signs of root or distress in crops. Much of this has been done manually now, and of course, drones are set to work with it, but if the bees are already there, why not get them to help you?
The "Living IoT" backpack, a small wafer loaded with electronics and a small battery, was designed by the University of Washington engineers led by Shyam Gollakotta. He is quick to note that although the research utilizes these lumpy, fuzzy creatures, they were careful to "follow the best methods of care and handling."
Part of this minimizes the mass of the package; Other experiments have put RFID antennas and the like on the back of bees and other insects, but this is much more sophisticated.757459,1757477,1757479,1757480,1757481,1757482"]
The chip has sensors and an integrated battery that lets it run for seven hours, but weighs only 102 milligrams. By comparison, a full-grown hops could weigh anywhere from two to six times it.
They are strong flies, if not graceful, and can bear three quarters of body weight in pollen and nectar when they return to the bikube. So the backpack, while far from unnoticeable, is still well within its abilities; The team checked with biologists first, of course.
"We showed for the first time that it is possible to actually do all this calculation and sensing using insects instead of drones," explained Gollakotta in a UW press release. "We decided to use hops because they are big enough to carry a small battery that can run our system and they come back to a hive every night where we can charge the batteries in a wireless way."
The backpack can fit the location passively monitoring the varying power of signals from nearby antennas up to an area of about 80 meters. The data they collect is transmitted when they are in the beehive via an energy efficient backscatter method that Gollakotta has used in other projects.
The applications are many and different, but obviously limited to what can be observed while the bees are about their normal business. It can even help keep the bees healthy.
"It would be interesting to see if the bees prefer a region of the farm and visit other areas more often," co-author Sawyer Fuller said. "Alternatively, if you want to know what's happening in a particular area, you can also program the backpack to say," Hi bees, if you visit this place, take a temperature reading. ""
It is, of course, only in prototype form right now, but one can easily imagine that the technology is being deployed by the farmers in the near future, or perhaps in a more sinister manner by trebrief agencies who want to put a bee on the wall near important conversations. The team plans to present its work (PDF) at the ACM MobiCom conference next year.