Sunday, 28 April 2013

The DevSouthCoast hacking bee photo-story

I spent a weekend with a bunch of developers and a bunch of electronics hardware. The problem we were trying to solve was to build a "beehive monitoring device". Bees are dying out and nobody knows why. There are many theories: parasites, pesticides, reduced hedgerows, overwork. What's certain is that numbers are dwindling, so the weekend was dedicated to producing a low-cost high-tech one-size-fits-all monitoring device for beehives.

The monitoring equipment was supplied by the Microsoft Gadgeteer team and consisted of a power module, a main board and a bunch of sensors (temperature, humidity, motion, light, colour, GPS), communication devices (low-frequency radio, WiFi, GSM, bluetooth), user input (buttons, touch-screen LCDs, joysticks) and output (LCD displays, coloured LEDs, SD card) and more. I can't remember all of it, there was loads.

The bee knowledge was supplied by a local beekeeper who answered all of our questions about the bees and hives with a great deal of patience, then took us to the on-site beehives for a tour. I like bees, but have discovered I don't like defensive bees so didn't hang around for long.

Back in the sweatshop, the 12 developers neatly split into 3 teams of 4, with a seasoned Gadgeteer user and 3 novices in each. The suggestion of naming the teams "drones", "workers" and "queens" was not taken up.

Each team beavered away trying to solve the problem of non-intrusive bee monitoring and came up with a host of ideas. The three demonstrated solutions had a common core of regularly logging temperature and humidity data to an SD card, but the solutions for publishing the data varied across teams. One team's solution was to use a bluetooth component to download the log file contents to a bluetooth device; one's was to send notifications via RF link to a remote device to display information on an LCD screen; the other's was to use a WiFi connection to upload the data to a website to be displayed on a web page, and to send SMS messages for alerting special conditions.

The lucky members of the winning team (including yours truly) each took home an impressive set of Gadgeteer components. Expect more Gadgeteer-related posts soon as I discover what I can do with them!