The short version:
The bees are dying, and I am making a specialized hive design to help prevent that. While I have been able to prototype the design from a small 3D printer, I need money to be able to commercially 3D print my design large enough so I can test it in the field, preferably before my presentation in the International Science and Engineering Fair.
Here's the nitty gritty...
Bees are essential pollinators – they pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world. They are responsible for around $30 billion a year in crops. Bee pollination is worth $15 billion to the U.S. farming industry. Over the last six years, the bee industry spent $2 billion to replace 10 million hives. For an industry that's makes $500 million a year, that’s a huge deficit.
The domestic honeybee (Apis mellifera) specifically is needed to sustain the world’s human population of 7 billion. Although Apis mellifera is an invasive species, without them, there would be a chain reaction collapse in the food chain all the way up to humans due to our reshaping of our environment for agriculture.
What's the problem?
It is common knowledge that the world’s domestic honeybee population is dropping at an unsustainable rate due to multiple factors. In the time spanning April 2015 to April 2016 alone, beekeepers across the United States lost 44 percent of their colonies - that's up from 42.1 percent in 2015, and 39 percent in 2014. 2015 was the first time in history that keepers lost more bees during the summer than in the winter. If colony collapse disorder continues at the current rate, managed honey bees will disappear by 2035.
What's to blame?
The main culprit is the varroa mite, a little crab-like parasite that latches onto the back of an unsuspecting bee and infiltrates their hive, bringing in disease and sucking bee-blood and eating brood - all of which spells inevitable death for any beehive unlucky enough to be infested.
But this mite has been causing problems for beekeepers since the 1980s - so why haven't the bees developed some sort of behavioral resistance? What are beekeepers doing?
Well, beekeepers have been trying to fix the issue. Currently proposed countermeasures include miticides, RNA-based genetic adjustment of bees, and additions to current commercial hive designs. However, these options are ineffective in the long-term due to toxicity, evolution, and invasiveness, respectively. No notable mitigation of the downtrend has been seen. Not to mention, these methods leave one variable conspicously unadressed - the one that may be the reason why the bees haven't developed their own defense...
Wait, you called the honeybees "domestic" earlier...does that mean there are wild ones, too?
Bingo! Domestic honeybees are the ones used for honey production and pollination services on farms, whereas wild honeybees live in the wild. Wild bees are the same species, but recent research has shown that they aren't as vulnerable as domestics to the varroa mite - in fact, their share of the population loss comes from pesticides, while domestic bees are more pesticide resistant.
So what differentiates the two that makes the same factor produce such a drastically different result?
It's like you're inside my mind! The most obvious factor distinguishing the domestic honeybee from the wild honey bee is the hive – which would be identical if not for human intervention in the form of the Langstroth hive. The Langstroth hive is a bee-keeping structure akin to a file cabinet – bees live unnaturally in rows of moveable frames, where they produce much more brood and honey than they would in the wild. Not only do these production values make the bees more susceptible to varroa, but the design of the hive itself violates something called "superorganism theory", which dictates that the bee organism is not each individual bee but the hive of bees itself, thus heavily disrupting the bodily functions of the hive. For example, bees' combs are organized in such a way that each comb has a type of bee that performs a specific function (i.e., a drone). The Langstroth hive works by moving combs around, switching their order every so often. To the bee organism, this is like moving organs around! The Langstroth hive also keeps the queen away from the rest of the hive to prevent swarming, which is a natural septic function for the hive. And here's the obvious kicker: the Langstroth hive is a box, but hives in the wild are shaped more like upside-down almonds (a catenary curve, for the science-minded), which is a shape with mathematical properties that also help keep the hive healthy.
So, you want to make a new hive design? Haven't other people done this already?
Of course! But other hives in production, like the top-bar hive, keep the same princples in place. So do indepedently-sourced hives that attempt to solve the same problem.
Except for one! The exception is the "Sun Hive", a design pioneered around 30 years ago by German beekeeper Gunther Mancke. It adheres to the "biological lawfulness" of bees...BUT it isn't commerically competitive. It isn't even mass-producable - although the dimensions are public domain, it's hand-made out of organic materials and has no comparable honey production capabilities.
HERE IS WHERE I COME IN!
How do you make natural design commercially viable? Conversely, how do you make commercially viable designs better adhere to biological lawfulness? These are the fundamental questions that must be answered in order to save Apis mellifera, an organism that has been caught somewhere in between. The answer has arisen from the current adjacent possible made so by the coexistence of 3D printing, CAD software, and deep machine learning.
My project began by translating the Sun Hive design into a 3D-printable computer model. Design adjustments were made to maximize efficiency and integrate GPU-based monitoring for specialized analytics. With the never-before produced digitization of the Sun Hive, a typically handmade solution has been made conducive to rapid prototyping. CAD allows for the rapid revision and simplification of parts. 3D printing allows for rapid testing in the physical world. This cycle of revision and testing at such speeds is a very nascent process, but there is more to it in the future.
GPU-enhanced hardware and software allows for faster neural networking supplemented by database and BI visualization technologies, which allows for faster deep machine learning – real-time data streams of events can be used to detect changes in hive health for more effective study. Hive changes can be monitored faster and more effectively than ever before – decisions about evolving hive design can be more informed, and, in turn, hive evolution becomes more efficient. Observations using this technology can be made preemptively, concerning the design one wishes to subvert in the market, and in testing, allowing for a better understanding of how to improve design in a shorter amount of time. This, combined with rapid prototyping, results in a streamlined engineering process that makes the more complex designs of the natural world more accessible to engineers and accelerates learning. With all these disruptive concepts in practice, this endeavor is both an improvement upon hive design and biological engineering.
Now that there is a template for rapid-prototyping via 3D printing and an integrated Internet of Things, natural designs are more accessible to engineers. The hive is set to be tested in the field during the month of April at an ecology center out in California.
I get my support from Nvidia, specifically my mentor Jacci Cenci, their Senior Solutions Architect, and her team, as well as my father, who works for Kinetica.
In March, I presented this project in the New Jersey Regional Science Fair at Rutgers sponsored by Nokia Bell Labs, winning First Place Engineering, NJIT Academic Fellowship Alternate, ISEF Finalist, ISEF Trip Award Alternate, and the Ricoh Sustainability Award.
In May (13-18), I will be presenting again as a Finalist in the International Science and Engineering Fair.
This means that I need to get the hive in the field for testing ASAP!
HERE'S WHAT I NEED THE MONEY FOR:
3D printing is expensive, especially at the sizes I need to do it at! It is crucial that I begin putting this hive in the field for testing.
I need funding for:
A full size 3D print production with bee friendly materials @$14,000
To purchase hive sensors and incorporate into the hive design @$1,000
As a finalist for the International Science and Engineering Fair, I need to get the hive printed and shipped to California as soon as possible (about 2 weeks), and allow enough time to setup, add the bee colony, and start collecting data (about 4 weeks).
The science fair is from May 13th to 18th so ideally, I gather enough funding by April 9th to start hive production.
Thank you for your donation to my honey bee rescue!
Some recent posts to learn more...
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