The addition of bespoke software and sensing technology has turned a beehive rental company into the Xero of beekeeping, bringing the ancient art into the digital age.
BuzzTech creates management software for beehives which can tell beekeepers which hives need attention, based on the size and condition of the resident bees.
This is incredibly useful to the industry, says CEO Julian McCurdy, because it can drastically improve efficiency and effectiveness of hive management.
“The medium size companies have 5000 hives from Northland to Wairarapa, and the people managing those hives are living on the road and working extreme hours to keep on top of each hive.
“Generally they keep track of everything on whiteboards diaries and stickers, so it’s all paper-based.”
This leads to a range of problems. As well as invasive pests such as American Foulbrood crippling hives, it’s not unusual for hives in remote locations to be stolen, missed, or even forgotten about by beekeepers.
“The difference BuzzTech offers is we’ve got integrated sensors and we combine that with data from beekeepers so they can operate the business more efficiently.
“We give them tools to collect the information really easily – us doing the calculation and analysis and telling them the hives that need attention.
“They have to have the right gear on the truck and plan for what work needs doing and allocate resources and prioritise their work intelligently. BuzzTech lets them do that.”
It does this by gathering temperature and audio data from monitored hives, collecting five temperature readings and two seconds of audio every 15 minutes from the centre of the colony.
“We can see how big the cluster of bees is. Temperature profile over time gives us the size and audio gives us the condition. We run a classifier over that, which matches the sensor data with the inspection data from the beekeeper.”
The company uses two pieces of bespoke technology to provide beekeepers with the information they need. The software, started by Julian himself and improved on by hired gun coders and feedback from users, and signal processing technology, developed with Callaghan Innovation.
Using algorithms developed by Callaghan Innovation, audio recordings and data from multiple temperature sensors are combined to produce unique insights into the health of the hive. This allows for enhanced hive management with prediction of important events such as swarming.
The algorithm development occurred from a chance meeting in Hawke’s Bay with Sudhir Singh, Callaghan Innovation’s Sensing and Automation principal wireless research engineer.
The company, which last year graduated from the Sprout agritech accelerator, is continuing research and development work with Callaghan Innovation while setting their sights on building a solid base of paying customers.
NZ Manuka Group’s Karl Gradon has moved into a governance role at BuzzTech, chairing the board, which also includes Richard Barley of Melita Group, Cradle and SpiderTracks co-founder James McCarthy and Caracell Beekeeping Supplies managing director Bruce Clow.
Once BuzzTech is established there is strong potential for a push to overseas markets.
“It’s actually a little bit scary to think how big it could be. It could be used for colonisation of new hives right down to hobby beekeeping. Every single person who keeps beehives can do a better job with this system.
“Even in countries like the Philippines where their infrastructure is really basic – they burn trees to get honey – using this system, even the most remote beekeepers can manage hives successfully.”
Updated: 6 March 2017