Honeybees are vanishing, and at an alarming rate. The rise of colony collapse disorder in apis mellifera is concerning, because without honey bees to pollinate our crops, human beings will starve.

Colony collapse disorder is a phenomenon in which the worker bees in a hive simply vanish en masse, leaving behind a queen and a few nurse bees to raise the larva. Where do the worker bees go?

Enter the Open Source Beehive. It’s a small project involving a few visionaries and a couple of maker labs in Europe. The idea is to design hives that are easy to use, and expose bees to no foreign substances that might affect results. Using a CNC router, a modification of the Kenyan Top Bar hive was made in Colorado. Top bar hives allow you to inspect the hive without bothering it too much, and allow bees to make their own comb their own way.

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A commonly used hive, the Langstroth, uses paraffin wax as a mold for the bees, and the idea is to limit exposure to foreign substances as much as possible, so that the environmental effects on hives around the world can be studied. The team is working on sensors, which can monitor temperature, hive population, and humidity, and hopefully be able to link that information with other hives around the world, creating a global database.

The hives are a modification of top bar hives developed in Kenya. Because African honeybees are more aggressive than their European and North American counterparts, a top bar hive places the honeycomb part of the hive above the colony, so fewer bees are disturbed when it’s opened. It keeps the bees calmer and makes for easier hive inspections.

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Building on this idea, the team designed a hive that can be made from a single 4 X 8 plywood board. Using a CNC router, or a computer-controlled milling machine, the software optimizes the cuts on the plywood, wasting little material and cutting a frame that can be assembled without nails or other materials (The best part of the whole deal). Inside the frame is a sensory device that will monitor humidity, temperature, population, weight, acoustics and electromagnetic fields. (I suggest they get a wasp defense system. We’ve all seen that nature show, a wasp comes in an destroys the whole nest.)

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It’s based on the Smart Citizen Arduino device, part of a global campaign for people around the world to monitor environmental conditions in their home cities, and share the data. The data is streamed to a site online, and when aberrations within hives occur, text messages are sent to users. With time and lots of data, the team hopes that citizens the world over will know more about colony collapse disorder—and what can be done about it.

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