UCC students win global prize for un-bee-lievable tech

1 Dec 2014

(Left to right) Lily Pinson, Fiona Edwards Murphy, Kathie Hetherington, UCC president Dr Michael Murphy, Liam O'Leary and Killian Troy

It was puns galore at University College Cork (UCC) after a group of students won a global competition against challengers from MIT/Boston University for their project using smart technology to help the plight of the honey bee.

Entitled (2B) OR! (2B), the UCC researchers 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.

According to the researchers, 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.

An ‘internet of things’ beehive

The data that is stored in an active beehive is protected through traditional methods, including cryptography, but is also protected physically by the bees themselves, a guarantee given the protective nature of bees over their homes.

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.

The five students who walked away with the IBM-sponsored grand prize of €5,000 came from a variety of backgrounds in UCC, particularly the School of 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 (Kathie Hetherington). 

The Irish Research Council is also funding the PhD of Murphy, the team leader, who is designing the smart beehive.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic