23 May 2017 |
Research article |
Entrepreneurship & Management
Nectar Technologies: the Well-Kept Secret of Bees
In addition to producing honey, bees are pollinating insects, a species we depend on for food. Unfortunately, they are in danger. A study in Ontario estimated that 58% of bee hives die each year. Experts are concerned that the number is growing. Several causes are being blamed, but the two main ones, pesticides and parasites, are responsible for 90% of the bee deaths. How do you know if a hive is healthy or if you need to intervene to save it? This is the question answered by the system developed by Nectar Technologies, a company incubated in Centech.
The Science of Bees
Several parameters can be measured to evaluate the health of a hive: temperature, humidity, the sound resulting from the beating bee wings and the weight of the hive… Take for example temperature. During the winter, the bees flap their wings to maintain a constant temperature in the hive. A temperature that fluctuates according to external temperature variations therefore indicates a problem. The measurements of the sound and the sound frequency are used to describe the beating of bee wings, while the weight is an indication of honey production.
All these interrelated variables are part of a well-controlled science, but there is as yet no unanimity regarding the existing commercial solutions. On the one hand, the measuring devices proposed are expensive: several hundred dollars to measure a single parameter of a single hive! On the other hand, the very raw way in which the data are transmitted is not adapted to all beekeepers, especially the increasing number who take care of a few beehives for reasons of environmental conscience. Nectar wants to fill this gap by meeting these needs while helping the big beekeepers to optimize the maintenance of their hives.
Nectar’s Proposed Solution
The proposed solution consists of sensors measuring five parameters. Their simultaneous analysis makes it possible to evaluate the health of the hive and to predict certain phenomena, such as swarming, when a new queen is born in a colony, driving part of a hive’s bees to form a new colony. The parameters monitored are temperature, sound, sound frequency, hive weight and geolocation.
In order to facilitate the data analysis, the latter will not only be transmitted, but also analyzed by means of an artificial intelligence system. The beekeeper will be able to query the system by means of a user-friendly interface to find out the state of health of each hive.
Ongoing Development Activities
The Nectar team followed 17 hives last winter to collect as much data as possible during the dormancy period. In the summer of 2017, Nectar aims to validate the robustness and reliability of the sensors and to collect more data than necessary in order to build up the data bank that will feed the artificial intelligence algorithm. The conversational interface is scheduled for April 2018. Nectar plans to deliver several thousand devices next year.
Nectar is currently growing! Engineers and students in Software Engineering (Artificial Intelligence) and Electronics Engineering (Printed Circuit and Firmware Design) are invited to join the team.
Nectar also won the regional second prize in the OSEntreprendre competition in the Technology Innovation category and integrated the FounderFuel business incubator cohort, a major player in the Canadian entrepreneurial scene.
Wishing to combine his desire for entrepreneurship with his passion for beekeeping, Marc-André Roberge launched Nectar in April 2016. Today, he is the president and product designer. He is also a beekeeper in his spare time.
Xavier De Briey
Xavier de Briey is the technology director and hardware developer for Nectar. He developed the first material prototype of the device that has been in use in 17 hives. He earned a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering at ÉTS.
Program : Electrical Engineering