Bee hive health monitor

This project will monitor the weight changes in the hive along with some environmental items to provide real time indicators of hive health

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This is yet another bee hive monitor. We are doing it because many past projects monitor activity, but do not provide data that we can interpret as measures of hive health and stress. Our goal is to engineer an IoT hardware and software framework that is very simple to replicate and gives us information about our hives that we can, hopefully, begin to correlate with external factors. By doing this we should be able to more quickly spot problems and diagnose what is going on to provide remedies (if any).
This is targeted to the amateur bee keeper who likes to make things and also stay in touch with nature. It will, hopefully, be scalable to use on many hives, but our initial goal is for six or fewer hives per location. The parts will be chosen for their cost, broad availability, and simple substitution.
Our end goal is to have a system to help us find correlations between hive behavior and the environmental factors.

Why would you do this?

We have been keeping bees for a few years in two different Texas locations -- Gulf Coast and Central. Like many beekeepers, especially beginners as we are, we have had a high amount of hive losses. Some of these losses have been very easy to identify. For example in the Gulf Coast the invasion by tropical fire ants (Solenopsis geminata) has been devastating to many desirable species  -- and they definitely do kill new bee hives. Other causes of colony collapse in our hives have been hard for us to diagnose. And even harder to catch early enough to help the hive recover.

We looked at other bee hive monitoring projects and they all provided interesting data, like the number of bees entering and leaving. But we do not know how to translate this to the ongoing health of the colony. Forager bee count data can be strongly influenced by things like climate, temperature, rain, cloud cover, amount of pollen providers, etc. What we hope is that we can initially use hive weight changes to provide a more direct indication of what is going on with the overall colony.

All of this leads to a number of questions that we hope to answer with the data from this project. Some of these questions will be explained in the project log.


How will we do it?

Our hope is that we can create a consistent method of data collection so that it can be shared with other bee enthusiasts and compiled for analysis across many environmental conditions and locations.

On the hardware side our prototype monitors are progressing. We are using as much Consumer Off The Shelf (COTS) items as we can. For the scales we have selected some that have seamless stainless steel tops that roll over the edges to prevent water drip lines. They also have closed bottoms. The key feature is they have a detachable head that contains all their electronics and batteries. Having the power external to the scale platform is vital. You do not want to have to move an active hive to replace batteries.

The original scale head is cut off and replaced with our hardware system. This system consists of input conditioning for the scales and other sensors, the Microcontroller Unit (MCU), the power system, and an external WiFi antenna.

These monitors then send MQTT data packets as clients over their WiFi connection to the local network. In a remote location we have a Raspberry Pi that acts as an MQTT broker and general server. This server also contains an Ifluxdb database instance for data logging. Grafana also runs on the server to display the data.

We have also set up a free test account with (Many thanks Adafruit for doing this for the community!). This will allow us to mirror the data to Adafruit and  have remote access to it without having to configure routers, write firewall rules, etc. Once complete we can share the data in the public cloud(s).

Future enhancements may be to use a LoRa gateway to enable the hives to be monitored further than WiFi can conveniently reach. We are also considering a mesh WiFi approach using an ESP8266 intermediate repeater, but this is less desirable due to the "bowtie" effect and requirement for additional solar/battery power system.


What is your approach?

To date we have been making progress on the prototype systems. We have a simple mechanical arrangement to keep the hives on the scale platforms, protect the scale, and keep the whole arrangement solid and level. We have tested a number of sensors, displays, modules, and ESP8266 development boards. This has led us to our current configuration. We are now integrating everything and beginning work on the mechanics of enclosures, weather resistance, etc. We are building and testing the implementation as we go. There are many items left to program, build, test, and correct before a robust, reliable system is working. That process is what we expect to detail in the project log.

  • 1 × Weather resistant, load cell based scale Any scale can be used as long as it has suitable weather resistance, good structural strength, and strain gauge internal measuring devices
  • 1 × HX711 A/D amplifier-digitizer IC (or breakout module)
  • 1 × ESP8266 based development board and case
  • 1 × Raspberry Pi (or equiv) Single Board Computer
  • 1 × Temperature/Humidity sensor (or breakout module) Must fit inside a queen cage and be high quality with reasonable calibration to 100% RH

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  • Slow progress, but progress

    sparks.ron01/01/2020 at 22:25 0 comments

    Fall and winter are always busy times here in the "third coast". The weather finally cools off enough to allow outside activities to happen without all the humid, hot misery. It is a bit reversed to the northern US. We have times in the summer months that are just brutal and make it advantageous to do inside projects, like software coding.

    The hive monitor prototype was finished and the first software implementation is working. But the cooler weather has moved priorities to the outside portions. We moved one hive in late August to bring it out of a remote field and put it with the other hives in a new site closer to the house. That will hopefully, allow the little Robotdyn ESP8266 boards to communicate with the WiFi network without a lot of extra RF engineering. We also built a new hive support frame setup that includes several fire ant and beetle exclusion systems. That seems to have helped enormously and kept the hives we still have alive through the worst of the pest season.

    I am still working on the issue of strain gauge creep that occurs when the scales are kept under load continuously. Thus far it seems that once they have time to "settle in" the curve goes asymptotic and the resulting measurements are remaining stable with the 10 lb (4.5 Kg) calibration weight. After 12 months outside and 4 months in the lab with the weight applied continuously, the variance is in the ±0.5 lb (0.2 Kg) range.

    One other item that had to be resolved was the conversion of the HX711 module from 5v to 3.3v. This was causing random glitches and was a pain to find the root cause. But once identified we had a "forehead slapping" moment and felt a bit dumb. The thing that obscured the problem was that the interface pins on the HX711 worked fine at the lower voltages, but the internal amplifier didn't. The fix was a simple bridging of one divider resistor with a second one of identical value. I will show this mod in the next update.

    In the meantime I wish all of you the best and most prosperous New Year and New Decade (from all of us who use a Gregorian mode 0 calendar).   :-)

  • The key to the Project

    sparks.ron08/15/2019 at 23:20 0 comments

    The first step of this project is the selection of a suitable scale or load cell platform. You can certainly make your own for less money than buying one and modifying it. If you have a 3d printer and wood, plastic, or metalworking ability, then if you have the time and interest by all means make one. You can get inexpensive load cells from the usual vendors and mechanically all you need to do is create a platform that is fully supported by one side of the load cell and a base that is the support underneath it. We decided that our time was more useful in building the rest of the system than reinventing a platform system that someone else had engineered and manufactured.

    Either way, here are the key items we felt were important  to have in the mechanical system:

    • Corrosion proof (or at least resistant). This will be in the open elements and underneath the hive where dirt and debris can collect. Constant temperature changes and humidity will destroy accuracy in a system that is weather sensitive.
    • No edges that can catch water or moisture runoff.
    • UV resistant. For the same reasons as corrosion, the sun will be impinging on the setup and will quickly degrade many (most?) plastics unless they are coated.
    • Non-toxic. It goes without saying that in a place where sensitive bees are making food you will eat, you do not want unknown plastics out gassing or such.
    • A large enough platform to hold the hive without it rocking, moving, or being unsteady. We found that 14 in by 16 in (35 cm by 41 cm) was a minimum for our hives.
    • Direct access to the load cell circuit. In commercial scales we have found this is the case all those with a controller/display separate from the scale with a cable connecting it to the platform.

    Here is a picture from an Amazon listing for a scale like the ones we are using:

    Notice that it has no edges or seams in the stainless steel platform. It is a press fit to the plastic base and covers it well enough to protect it from most UV. It also separates any plastic away from the hive bottom and leaves a fully ventilated area underneath. On this unit, the bottom was very nearly sealed with the load cell feet in protected recesses. After one year outside we have seen no degradation in our to test units.

    You can see from the pictures that we use a couple of different methods of supporting the scale and then fitting the hive to the top of it. One important facet of the hive mount is that it does not sit tightly down on the scale. This is to allow air to move freely below the hive and above the scale. One of us uses screen bottom hives and this arrangement also allows a very quick check for Varroa Mites. This invasive pest is wreaking havoc on hives all over the US.

    Once you have your mechanical arrangement (scale) and hive mounting system, you can then proceed with the electronic part. More on that in the next log.

View all 2 project logs

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