Three rising seniors have been on the Govs campus the past six Fridays working alongside engineering teacher Marcus Soule on a special project. Kyra Steck ’18, Nathan Bargman ’18, and David Wilson ’18 have been working under the guidance of Soule to build a beehive monitoring system.
The apparatus, built through wiring, soldering and coding, will have the ability to measure both the internal and external temperature and humidity of the hive, as well as its overall weight. The data collected by built-in sensors will then be transmitted via Wi-Fi to a database server so that students and faculty have the ability to view live updates as well as observe the changes the hive undergoes. Finally, in an effort to adhere with the Academy’s green-energy initiative, the system is entirely solar powered.
Bargman and Wilson were approached by Soule to join the project for their coding and wiring skills, while Steck was asked to join as the group’s resident bee expert. Once the proposal and agenda for the project was set, it was broken up into a few major categories. Steck took the lead on documentation, website creation, and solar energy; Bargman mastered the load cells to accurately measure the weight of the hive, as well as data transmission; and Wilson headed the effort to code all sensors. When reflecting on his experience, Wilson shared that he “learned a lot about how to program microcontrollers and sensors...it’s been a great few weeks.”
While this project has only been on the minds of the students since April, it’s been a dream of Soule’s for much longer. As an avid reader of Make Magazine, Soule read an article titled The Internet of Bees by Nathan Seidle, a piece dedicated to documenting and explaining Seidle’s process in creating his own beehive monitoring system. To Soule’s estimation, this occurred over three years ago. “I’ve never forgotten that article,” says Soule. “It’s always something I’ve wanted to do.” This year, with the help of Roberta McLain, science teacher and campus apiarist, his vision became a reality.
The inception and planning of the project was fairly simple. Its execution, however, was been anything but. Over the course of six weeks, the group faced new, confusing and frustrating challenges everyday - challenges of equipment availability, compatibility, coding and software. "At first the Load Cells [instruments for measuring mass] wouldn’t physically fit into the other pieces we bought. It took a while to figure out the issue, but eventually we were able to measure mass,” shares Bargman. At the same time, Wilson struggled with sensory data. “Initially, we had problems reading multiple sensors on the same I2C bus because they had the same hardware address. However, after researching online, we learned that two sensors with the same address can be used if we utilize an I2C multiplexer,” Wilson states.
The benefits of this project, however are immense. To begin, teachers from all disciplines of the Science Department can take advantage of the collected data for educational purposes by incorporating it into classes, projects or even field trips to the hive. The data made accessible by this system will also benefit members of the Govs Beekeeping Club, as it will make maintenance of the hive easier and prolong hive life, which in turn increases honey yield.
The effects of the project go far beyond the Byfield campus. The team believes that given the access to the hive’s data and the ability to further analyze it, the hive population can be better preserved in the winter months when the health of the hive is at its lowest. “Working to understand the aspects of a healthy hive is the first step in conversation,” says Steck. This idea of conservation and protection is one that has recently gained traction and mainstream support, as the rapid decline of the U.S. honeybee population continues to concern apiarists, environmentalists and economists alike.