Jun 26, 2019 | Updated: 09:24 AM EDT

Researchers Create First Sensor Package That Can Ride on Bees

May 23, 2019 11:35 AM EDT

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Sensors on Bumblebees
(Photo : N/A) Bees can now have sensors.

Farmers with big parcels of land often monitor their farms using drones. However, these machines consume lots of fuel and cannot go far without recharging. But now, farmers are in for a pleasant surprise as researchers from the University of Washington have come up with a minute sensing system that can be mounted on a bumblebee. Since the insects fly on their own, the device requires a rechargeable battery that lasts for seven hours, and will be recharged when the bee gets back to its hive. The inventing team published their findings on their site.

A senior author with the group, Shyam Gollakota, said that drones fly 10-20 minutes before requiring a recharge. On the other hand, bees are capable of collecting data for hours. The associate professor with Paul G. Allen group of Computer Science and Engineering reiterated that it was possible to do computation as well as sensing by use of insects.

While this system solves a problem in power, it has its downsides too. For a start, insects cannot carry a huge load. Secondly, GPS receivers that help report positions consume lots of power. To ensure that the device works well, the researchers must address these two issues.

"We chose bumblebees since they are sizeable enough to fly about with the battery and at night, they return to the hive for the battery to be recharged wirelessly," the coauthor, a doctoral student at the WU Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Vikram Iyer, intoned. He further said that during their research, they handled the insects with care.

In previous researches, the bumblebees were fitted with simple backpacks. Small trackers like frequency for radio identification and tags, were super-glued to the insects to track their movements. During the study, the bees were placed in a freezer for a few minutes before the backpacks were glued to them. After the experiment, the backpacks were removed.

Initial studies involved tracking short distance locations of around 10 inches. However, the environment around the insects was not surveyed. The team then designed a backpack that weighs around 7 grains of uncooked rice (102 mg). The rechargeable battery weighs about 70mg.

The team also came up with a system which does not use power to keep the bees within close range. A multiple base station with antennae was set to collect signals from the covered range. The strength of the signal is detected by the receiver in the backpack to check on the bee's position. An experiment was done on a soccer pitch to test on localization. Four antennae were set up on a single side of the field. A bee with a backpack was placed in a jar before being moved away from the antennae. The bee's position was detected within 80 meters.

A small series of sensors were also added to the backpacks to monitor humidity, light intensity and temperature. The bees logged in the information including their location. This way, all the information about the farm are compiled.

Sawyer Fuller, a co-author of the project said, "It would interest us to see which part of the farm the bees prefer. Also, to know what is happening in a given area, the backpack could be programmed to give all needed information." After foraging, the bees returned to their hive where data was obtained by a process known as backscatter. The device gives information through a reflection of radio waves from a nearby antenna.

As of the moment, the backpack is able to store only about 30kB of data. The backpacks can only upload data once the bee is back in the hive. The team is working on installing cameras to live-stream information to farmers about the health of crops.

Bees are best poised to carry sensors because they detect things other machines like drones may not. A drone flies around randomly while the bee gets attracted to specific occurrences. Apart from learning about the farm, knowing the behavior of the bees is beneficial to the study too.

The First Sensor Riding on Bees Created by Researchers
Farmers with big parcels of land often monitor their farms using drones. However, these machines consume lots of fuel and cannot go far without recharge. But now farmers are in for a pleasant surprise as researchers from University of Washington have come up with a minute sensing system that can be mounted on a bumblebee.

Since insects fly on their own, the device requires a rechargeable battery lasting seven hours, to be recharged when the bee gets back to its hive. The inventing team is planning to present the findings on 11th December at ACM Mobicom 2019 Conference.
A senior author with the group, Shyam Gollakota, said that drones fly 10-20 minutes before requiring a recharge. On the other hand, bees are capable of collecting data for hours. The associate professor with Paul G. Allen group of Computer Science and Engineering reiterated that it was possible to do computation as well as sensing by use of insects.

As a matter of fact, this system solves problem of power, however, it has its downsides too. For a start, insects cannot carry a huge load. Secondly, GPS receivers that help report positions consume lots of power. To ensure the device works well, the researchers must address the two issues.

"We chose bumblebees since they are sizeable enough to fly about with the battery and at night, they return to the hive for the battery to be recharged wirelessly." The co-author, a doctoral student at the WU Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Vikram Iyer, intoned. He further said that during their research, they handled the insects with care.

In previous researches, bumblebees were fitted with simple backpacks. Small trackers like frequency for radio identification and tags, were super-glued to the insects to track their movements. During study, bees were placed in the freezer for some minutes before backpack is glued to them. When experiment is complete, the backpack is removed.

Initial studies involved tracking short distance locations, around 10 inches. The environment around insects was not surveyed. Gollakota and group therefore designed a backpack that weighs around 7 grains of uncooked rice (102 mg). The rechargeable battery weighs about 70mg.

The team also came up with a system which does not use power to keep the bees within close range. A multiple base station with antennae was set to collect signals from the covered range. The strength of the signal is detected by the receiver in the backpack to check on bee's position. An experiment was done on a soccer pitch to test on localization. Four antennas were set up on a single side of the field. A bee with a backpack was placed in a jar before being moved away from the antennas. The bee's position was detected within 80 meters.

A small series of sensors were then added to the backpack to monitor humidity, light intensity and temperature. The bees logged in the information including their location. This way all, the info about the farm is compiled.

Sawyer Fuller, a co-author of the project said, "It would interest us to see which part of the farm the bees prefer. Also, to know what is happening in a given area, the backpack could be programmed to give all needed information." After finishing foraging, bees return to their hive where data is obtained by a process known as backscatter. The device gives information through a reflection of radio waves from nearby antenna.
At the moment, the backpack is able to store only about 30 kb of data. The backpacks can only upload data once the bee is back to the hive. The team is working on installing cameras to live-stream information to farmers about the health of crops.

Bees are best poised to carry sensors because they detect things other machines like drones may not. A drone flies around randomly while the bee gets attracted to specific occurrences. Apart from learning about the farm, knowing the behavior of the bee may be beneficial too.

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