Saving Hives: BeeRight’s AI-Powered Devices are Revolutionising Beekeeping for a Brighter Future

Joel Kuperholz (right) and Vignesh Murugan (left)

Much food production relies on bees for pollination. In the face of devastating parasites and disease, BeeRight's sensor technology keeps watch over precious hives, as Joel Kuperholz explains.

Fact file

Co-founders: Joel Kuperholz (above, right), 29, and Vignesh Murugan (left), 26 Investors Marc Ber and Sakumzi Macozoma of Safika Holdings

First customer: Bega Group, 2021 (as Purple Hive Project)

Headquarters: Melbourne

Staff: Four

What’s your elevator pitch?

“We’re embedding lifetimes of knowledge from expert beekeepers into AI-powered devices to enable low-cost remote monitoring of hives for Varroa mite and other pests and diseases, to support the bees and food security.”

Where did the idea come from?

“In about 2019, our startup, Vimana Tech, received seed funding to begin exploring technologies to help Australian farmers with some of their challenges. We travelled from Victoria through NSW and into Queensland to meet farmers. No matter if they were raising livestock or growing crops, they all mentioned the importance of bees and the threats to them.”

What’s the problem you aim to solve?

“Once the Varroa destructor mite gets into a hive it decimates a colony. The mites feed off the larvae, which are born with genetic disorders as well as viruses. The hive becomes weaker and it’s a death sentence if untreated. Varroa was seen as the biggest threat to bees in Australia when we started working on the technology.”

How did you get it off the ground?

“Bega Group had a new product, B Honey, and in 2021 used our multi-camera computer vision AI-system detection technology on the Purple Hive Project, using sentinel hives and aiming to keep Varroa out of Australia. In 2022, the year after the first major incursion of the mites spread, the government declared that eradication was no longer feasible and it became about limiting the impacts. We realised that for beekeepers to be able to monitor their hives and get early alerts about Varroa, our technology had to be cheap enough to be installed in every beehive – computer vision is just too expensive. We were learning from Ian Cane, a third-generation beekeeper who can walk through a field of hives and say, ‘This one is queenless’, ‘That one has a problem’, when all we can hear is buzzing. Our idea was to put his ‘brain’ on a computer chip so we can remotely monitor hives. To save the bees, we need to preserve the knowledge of the expert beekeepers. We rebranded as BeeRight and Ian is our mentor and adviser – he’s a wonderful human who wants to help support food security for future generations.”

How does it work?

“The small device clips onto a frame in the brood chamber, the bottom box where the queen and the babies live, inside each beehive. The chip is packed full of sensors and has a battery pack that lasts up to five years. Data from the sensors is processed and transmitted to the cloud and a dashboard of actionable insights – not raw data – is presented on the beekeeper’s computer and focuses on problem areas.”

What’s next?

“This year we were chosen for The Innovation Pilots Initiative being run by CSIRO’s Catalysing Australia’s Biosecurity and the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry. Our goal is to scale across Australia to assist beekeepers to manage their hives more efficiently and profitably. We’re exploring how we can share data between beekeepers and the government. All this data can help discover other threats and support research into bee genetics as scientists look into hives that show resistance to Varroa. The beekeepers own their data, which is important. When Varroa first started spreading, government interventions left beekeepers very scarred so we have to rebuild trust.”

SEE ALSO: How to Build Generative AI Responsibly

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Image credit: Josh Robenstone

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