AI Powered Beekeeping

A look at Beewise

August 13, 2021

For years everyone has been saying that many people's jobs will be taken by computers and robots, many people speculate that it will be unskilled workers being replaced and while replacing all the traditional checkout counters at Walmart with self-checkout kiosks is good for everyone who isn't a chashier, I've already expressed my doubts on the idea that unskilled workers are the ones in the most danger of having their jobs become relics of the past, one company seems to be trying to convince me otherwise.

Beewise is an Israel based company which has created what they have called a BeeHome which is basically a structure the size of a large portable outhouse which can house 24 colonies of bees, cameras and sensors to monitor them, and a robotic mechanism capable of performing various tasks such as treat hives for mites, regulate temperature, split and combine hives and even harvest honey. On top of that there is some sort of "AI system" (because what's a tech startup without Ai these days?) which can reportedly tell whenever anything starts to go wrong in a hive and will take actions to mitigate the threat making manual hive inspections completely unnecessary. I first found out about this after noticing an article with a title slightly more click-baity than mine here and after looking into this intriguing concept a bit it almost made sense.

But only almost.

At four hundred dollars a month, a BeeHome seems to be reasonably priced for the right crowd of people, you can certainly get a traditional beekeeper to take care of some hives on your property for that price, but I doubt you could convince one to let you have twenty four for that price. Beewise has begun to make their product available to commercial beekeepers, but unfortunately for Beewise this is the wrong crowd of people for their BeeHomes.

Who this isn't for

Now before I go into detail about this it is only fair that we remember that Beewise is an Israel based company and that I only have an understanding of commercial beekeeping in America. Israel is of course has much different geography, climate, and agricultural practices than we have here in the United States, so while I don't think a BeeHome (at least in its current state) makes much sense for most American commercial beekeepers it may make sense for an Israeli beekeeper, besides one of Beewise's founders is a beekeeper so at least one of them seems to think it is a good idea. Regardless of whether or not it makes sense Beewise is beginning to operate in the United States so it is necessary to talk about whether or not their product is compatible with American commercial beekeeping.

When asked where beekeepers make most of their money many people would assume that honey would be their main product because that is what they are most used to seeing in the stores, but in reality it is pollination that pays the bills for beekeepers, many of them don't even bother harvesting honey to sell, instead they truck their bees all over America to pollinate various crops and because different types of crops bloom at different small windows throughout the year bees are constantly being moved to pollinate new fields and orchards. The first crop to bloom in the country are almonds and I've seen people estimate that during the late weeks of January 80% of the bees in the country are on or near almond orchards in California where 90% of the world's almonds are grown. After those short weeks the bees are taken elsewhere to pollinate other types of crops.

During the crucial pollinating season it is rare for beekeepers to keep their hives in the same spot for more than a month and even after that time has passed they tend to move them around. During the summer there is a beekeeper who leaves several hives on my grandparents' property because they live in an area with cool summers which is nice for the bees, but when the season starts to change the bees will be moved south to an area with a much less harsh fall and winter where they will be much more likely to survive. From what I can tell portability was not a concern when Beewise were designing their BeeHome. Sure the BeeHomes are climate controlled so it shouldn't need to be moved for hives to survive the summer and winter (assuming the solar panels draw enough power for that) but those are not the important times that a commercial beekeeper in America needs their hives moved, if a hive can't be easily moved around to pollinate different crops then it is not a profitable hive.

Who this is for

The market that Beewise should be targeting (at least in America) are people and organizations interested in beautifying their properties and communities. While I absolutely despise home owners' associations, I'd definitely support the idea of an HOA spending money on a BeeHome, since the bees would do a great job at keeping the neighborhood plants healthy and it would be great for any gardeners in the neighborhood. I'd also be in support of city governments placing them near parks and universities and large corporations could also benefit from having a healthy supply of bees keeping things green. And of course this may also appealing to people living on large plots of land they want to keep healthy (farmers or not). All of these people and groups could also offset the cost of a their BeeHomes by selling they honey they produce, they may even be able to turn a small profit since the hundreds of pounds of raw local honey 24 hives can produce in a year is worth a good chunk of money (although I wouldn't put a guarantee on that since the $400 monthly bill isn't the only expense, at the very least selling honey would offset a good portion of the cost).

If BeeHomes being used in this way would certainly have a positive effect on communities and it would also bee good for the environment, and for these reasons it would be quite easy to market to the people and groups I think BeeHomes should be targeted towards. Beewise already spends time withing their marketing talking about how their product is saving the environment even though that sort of message is not as appealing and important to the people they are currently selling their product to since commercial beekeepers are already saving the bees. However, target this messaging to upper middle class liberal white women on HOA comities, candidates for positions in local government looking for something to make them stand out, and University faculty afraid to say no to anything that sounds politically correct, then they'd eat it up and start looking for ways to get a BeeHome in their community or campus.

Of course these BeeHomes would need someone to manage them, and this gives us a scenario where adding robotics and AI to an industry would create rather than destroy jobs. I can imagine dozens of small companies emerging in cities all over the world ran by people contracted to manage several BeeHomes across a city providing the service of urban pollination. I'm sure this would not be nearly as profitable as traditional pollination but it would involve much less risk and, assuming the BeeHomes work as well as Beewise claims they do, much less effort. The contracted beekeeper may only have to physically attend to one of the BeeHomes they manage once a week after installation. I'd definitely try to start a company like this if I had the resources.

But of course nine out of ten startups fail, and I predict that Beewise won't be around in a few years time. I do think that they have a good idea and have developed quite the interesting product, but we don't live in a utopia where all good ideas automatically thrive, instead we live in a world riddled with regulation and red tape. A world where innovation can't succeed without both inspiring and educating the public. And, sadly for Beewise, a world where products pushed towards the wrong market are destined to fail. Of course the market I propose for BeeHomes will be rightfully skeptical as well but skepticism goes away with proper teaching. I do of course hope that Beewise does manage to succeed, and I do home that urban pollination will become a thing, but I don't really think it will because I may be the only person who has ever thought of connecting these two ideas and I don't imagine very many of my regular readers here get as inspired by beekeeping as I do. (Although I have managed to get an email from a company trying to sell my beekeeping equipment and I have no idea how they would have found me) Maybe I'll write something to submit to Bee Culture maybe I won't, either way it is always fun to come up with ideas like this and try to think of how they could work, I guess that's why I love science fiction books, why I chose to go into programing, and why I chose to start this site, they are all environments that welcome this sort of creativity. I encourage you to seek out things and news that will let you escape the world through your own creativity as I have while writing this article.