UCC students are the bees’ knees

The team involved in the project:L-R Lily Pinson, Fiona Edwards Murphy, Katie Hetherington,Dr Pádraig Whelan,Dr Emanuel Popovici,Mick O'Shea, Liam O’Leary, Professor John O'Halloran and Killian Troy Image: Provision

 

A project using smart technology to help the plight of the humble honey bee has won a global competition for UCC students against challengers from MIT/Boston University (2nd) and TU Delft (3rd).

The UCC students created an energy-neutral smart beehive for the IEEE /IBM Smarter Planet Challenge 2014.  The competition organisers asked students worldwide to come up with an innovative solution to a grand challenge facing their community.

The UCC pilot project uses big data, mobile technology, wireless sensor networks and cloud computing to look at the impact of carbon dioxide, oxygen, temperature, humidity, chemical pollutants and airborne dust levels on the honey bees, using solar panels for an energy neutral operation.

The energy neutral smart beehive, currently in its first pilot phase, can autonomously monitor the activity of the bee colony and conditions within the beehive.  The data which are stored in an active beehive are protected through traditional methods including cryptography, but the bees also protect it, as team leader Fiona Edwards Murphy says “Honey bees are vicious when protecting their hive, including our data!”

The students’ research will also allow bee keepers to monitor their hives at times that were previously difficult or impossible such as during the night, heavy rain or in the depths of winter.

In the competition the student projects had to fit into one or more key areas, including: Big Data/analytics, cloud computing, cyber security or mobile technologies. The IEEE/IBM Smarter Planet Challengecompetition is run by the largest engineering organisation in the field, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and the prize of €5,000 was sponsored by IBM.  The five prizewinning UCC students came from Electrical and Electronic Engineering (Fiona Edwards Murphy, Liam O’Leary and Killian Troy), the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences (Lily Pinson) and the School of Biological, Environmental and Earth Sciences (Katie Hetherington).  The Irish Research Council is funding the PhD of the team leader Fiona Edwards Murphy who is designing a smart beehive.  UCC has a great track record in this competition, winning it in 2011 and coming second in 2013.  The students were mentored by Dr Emanuel Popovici, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Dr Pádraig Whelan, School of  Biological, Environmental and Earth Sciences and Dr Edward Lahiff, Food and Nutritional Sciences. Dr Popovici and Dr  Whelan also co-supervise Ms Edwards- Murphy’s PhD research.

For the competition the students used a Boolean themed project which was also inspired by Shakespeare, entitled: (2B) OR!(2B): From the beehive to the cloud and back

In their creative video entry that won them the competition (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0YBn1mEMJM), the students highlighted that the EU, UN and other bodies have predicted growing constraints on global food supplies and prices, as honey bee colonies, identified as the most important pollinator insect for food production, suffer a dramatic decline.

To describe the problem logically, the students presented the problem as a Boolean equation that also paid homage to Shakespeare’s timeless contemplation on life (To be, or not to be…?)

 

“Population Increase” OR “Climate Change” = “Less Food”

 

“Less Food” AND “Less Bees” = (2B)OR!(2B)?

The enterprising UCC students have proven that question to be always ‘True’ according to the theory of George Boole – and outlined a potential solution to saving the honey bee, so vital to human, animal and plant life, and a key species in many ecological systems. The students have designed a path to a potential solution that will use bee data on a unique scale and in an unobtrusive manner using mobile and cloud technology to monitor the honey bees.

Dr Michael Murphy, President of UCC said: “At UCC we are hugely proud of our first Professor of Mathematics, George Boole, whose bicentenary we are celebrating this year.  Boole’s theories of logic and probabilities are as powerful today as they were back in the 1800s.  I am delighted that his work has inspired our current students to create novel solutions to an urgent global problem and helped them win an international competition in the process.”

Data from initial observations were captured in two scientific papers and three invention disclosures with smarter hive features and experiments being carried out at the UCC Embedded Systems Laboratory.

Dr Emanuel Popovici, the Director of Embedded Systems Group at UCC comments:

“(2B) or !(2B) is an exceptional interdisciplinary project where long established technologies and beekeeping practices meet the latest advances in electronic technology. It is a project where Boole proves that Shakespeare’s famous existential question is always true. It is a project where five very bright and enthusiastic students from three disciplines interact and exchange some brilliant ideas to help humanity”.

 

 

About honey bees

For centuries bees have fascinated scientists, philosophers, writers and are present in many early cultures and mythologies (Aegean, Egyptian, Mayan, etc).  Bees have played a critical role in agriculture, medicine, nutrition, social studies, behavioural studies, environmental studies and even computer science and engineering. Bees are also used as a model system to study various aspects of biology and social organization.

Honey, pollen, propolis, beeswax and bee venom are valuable ingredients in health/alternative medicine and food products. There are many conditions, which can be treated using these products. The most important role of honey bees is not in honey production, but in pollination which is very important for a number of large global agricultural economies such as USA, Europe, South America and China as well as food production chain in general. The value of pollination to the world economy has been put at more than €150 billion per year. Recent years have witnessed an increase in the phenomenon called colony collapse disorder in parts of the world.  The causes for this phenomenon are not well understood and attributed to many potential factors.

 

About George Boole

Lincoln man, George Boole was the first Professor of Mathematics (1849-64) at UCC.  His work laid the foundations of the information age. His pivotal advances in mathematics, logic and probability provided the essential groundwork for modern mathematics, microelectronic engineering and computer science. His influence is such that he has been called the father of the digital age.  2015 is his 200th birthday and UCC will celebrate his life and legacy with a series of major events during the year.  More georgeboole.com