User Tools

Site Tools


Intelligent Beehives, sustainable beekeeping

Since 2009, Okno is researching the co-evolution between city honeybees and urban ecosystems in its OpenGreens and Bee Monitoring programs. Bee colonies are now threatened in all industrialized nations. Given that the survival of bees is crucial for human sustainability, there is a great urgency to improve by all means the ways in which colonies could thrive.
The research program surveys in an artistic way the multiple fields of interaction between honeybees and the (urban) ecosystem. It is remarkable to see how a bee population functions and evolves very much in accordance to the human activities we are developing around them: gardening and (urban) agriculture. The production of honey is different related to the flowers we grow, the plants we like, the garbage or pollution we produce. Bees are very responsive to the different biotopes that we share. Though we seem to have rather few insight into what constitutes the diversity of our surrounding living place, and that's something we want to research on a deeper level. As bio-markers, bees can give us valuable information about living conditions in our continuous productive urban landscapes.

To monitor the bees in a non-intrusive way we are building Intelligent Beehives. This are hives that are augmented with sensors and sensory processing algorithms that analyse the quality of pollen and propolis as well as the behavior of the bees in order to monitor the state of the ecology in the surrounding areas. The Intelligent Beehives are distributed in a European network, the data are available online and the creation of local biological Corridors can be consulted in realtime.

organic beehive designs, the timeline

The research phase01 of the intelligent beehive designs is a collaboration between OKNO, Fab Lab Barcelona and Sony Computer Science Lab Paris.
We will proceed in different steps:
First step I propose is to work on the Open Structures approach of a Warré beehive model (for sustainable beekeeping).
We could fablab this model early april (or before) and install the hives at Valldaura in april.
Next step is the design of organic and biodegradable beehives (drawings soon and research on specific materials) with an attempt to integrate sensors in a non-intrusive way for the bee colonies.

phase 01
for now, we have basic sensors (t° in/out, humidity) in a hive at Valldaura (green fablab), in Brussels (so-on) and in Brussels (okno)
⇒ we can send the sensor data of these 3 hives to the database that Peter has set up
⇒ on the t° data values we should do a computational correction, as the t° sensors are located only on 1 spot in the hive, and the values they give are thus very influenced by the outside t° values.

sustainability of the phase01 beehive
The Warré-model is by definition a hive-model for sustainable beekeeping, as the bee colony can develop at its own pace instead of being controlled by the beekeeper (nadiring the boxes, no queen excluders, 'optimal' temperature regulation)
The Warré model is not the 'best commercial model' concerning the amount of honey production, but it is sustainable as it does not stress the bees with 'overproduction' (honey taken away by the beekeeper)
The hives in the network are by preference on different locations, so that they can give us information on the bee colonies at these different locations (city, rural, …) and eco-information on the environment they are set in.
Goal is to compare the collected data of these locations, as well as the wellbeing and behaviour of the bee colonies.

phase 02
To have a better read-out of the t° in the hives, we are developing the 3D t° sensing system with the thermistors.
If this works out, it should provide us with the correct t° values in the hive (box), as well as with the behaviour (movement) of the bees inside of this monitored box.
The new 3D system should give a detailed read out, but it is also very complex and time consuming to install.
Every box has 8 frames x 8 thermistors, this makes 64 thermistors per hive-box to be soldered/attached to the frames, + connected to the PCB board.
Every box has its own PCB board.
Knowing that 1 (Warré) hive has an average setup of 4 boxes, we can calculate that it will be a huge amount of work to monitor the t° in 3D in the hive with this system.

phase 03
We are finalising the box that we started to work on in Barcelona, and we'll install it in the Brussels (so-on) Warré hive and connect it tothe internet to have a daily monitoring, as well on line (values and 3D visualisation) as physically (control the hive regularly).
Once we know that the 3D thermistor t° system is working as we expected, we can extend it to the other hives (Valldaura, Brussels).
Therefore we should make a subcontracting working plan, as there is a lot of physical work connected to it and most of us don't have the time to do it.
We should monitor the bees like this for a season, at least through winter till next spring's development, and work with the data and see how correct they are.
While monitoring the system like this for a while, with the findings and results, we should work on a simplification of the monitoring model so that we can adapt the monitoring to later (organic) models of intelligent beehives.

phase 04
Hopefully the submitted Intelligent Beehive project will be granted, and than we can finally go for the real development, described in the proposal, till the end!
A bio degradable organic (design) and sustainable (microbial fuel cells for energy) beehive that is at the one hand a sensor of the environment (pollution, nectar, pollen analyses) and at the other hand a non-intrusive bee monitoring system (in times of Colony Collapse Disorder).


warré hive finishedwarrehive fablab

specificities of a warré beehive
All info on sustainable beekeeping following the Warré method: beekeeping_for_all.pdf. More info: warre biobees.
Plans for building an Warré hive : warre beehive
The site is a sort of manual if you want to keep bees with the Warré method, it provides a lot of information on specific tools, plans for hives and even a life, and techniques for using the Warré hives.
Also there you can download the e-book: Beekeeping for All by Abbé Émile Warré, written in 1948.
We will adapt the Warré beehive to the open structures design-philosophy. In these hives we will do some real beekeeping the coming season 2013 in Valldaura and in Barcelona.
Beginning of april we should be able to install the first prototypes at Valldaura (the green fablab) and on the rooftop of the barcelona fablab, and populate them with honeybees!
Warré/OpenStructures beehive design: do we need modifications with respect to the original plans? ( Which materials will we use? Is there a material more exiting than wood, but still functional with the fablab tools and the Warré beekeeping method? If we use the first-phase hives only this spring/summer season, they don't need to be too thick (no winter in Barcelona) but they should be rainwater- sun- and wind-resistant. Insulation against hot spanish sun is interesting too.
It's usefull to include at least 1 window (with shutter) in the design, to monitor the bees easily without opening the hive.

open structures philosophy
How can we adapt the design of the warré hive to the Open Structures philosophy? [The OS (OpenStructures) project explores the possibility of a modular construction model where everyone designs for everyone on the basis of one shared geometrical grid. It initiates a kind of collaborative Meccano to which everybody can contribute parts, components and structures.]. Open structures is based upon a networked economy, interconnected by participants. Sharing, exchange, homegrown and DIY are important concepts that provoke new dialogues, emerging between producers and consumers, and that will result in new modes of artistic practices.
We have to take the products' ecosystem into account: the balance between the hardware and the software, applying a shared design vocabulary based upon common rules and agreements. Designing becomes a collaboration.
Probably we will have to adjust the sizes a bit. We can check out several approaches, I will control if they are suitable in respect to sustainable beekeeping. The pluspoint of working with the Warré hive (and topbars) for now, is that this method is easy to learn others (at Valldaura) about beekeeping, to execute a basic monitoring and to insert some sensors over the season. The future organic beehives (for the Intelligent Beehive project) are not meant to use for real beekeeping - these hives are more a support for honeybee colonies to settle for pollination, while we monitor the colony's development in relation to its surroundings.

fablab barcelona
I visited the fablab today (2/4/2013) and met John and Jon. We discussed the sensors to be implemented in and out the beehive, and we discussed the finalisation of the OpenStructures beehive. New ideas for visualization came up. One of them is to work with the OpenStructures grid design that is embedded (2mm) in the outer side of the hive and to fill it with a fosforescent resin (maybe pvc with plant pigment). The t° sensors inside of the hive can be connected to a led-light, and the light of this led can be distributed through the fosforescent design, thus that the t° sensor-data are visualized by the strenght of the light in the hive's design.
Another idea is to design a transparant hive made out of translucent solar panels. As the bees are used to work with polarized light, we can develop a hive that is dark for the bees and translucent for humans, so that the life in the hive can be observed without constraints, and at the same time the solarpanels can power all the ICT necessary to monitor the hive in a non intrusive way.
follow documentation on basecamp

workshop intelligent beehives at valldaura, barcelona
workshop intelligent beehives part01
preparing the beehives at the fablab
preparing the beehives at valldaura
announcement workshop
bee workshop Valldaura

workshop intelligent beehives at OKNO brussels
We organise a 2-day two-day workshop, all main actors involved in the Intelligent Beehives project are invited. Jakub Hybler (IIM Praha), Peter Hanappe and Michka Mélo (Sony CSL Paris), John Rees (for FabLab Barcelona), Guy Van Belle and Annemie Maes (for okno Brussels. It has been fascinating and inspiring in many respects. There was a lot of co-intelligence at work, as well as a group of people who bring together backgrounds in abstract sciences and technology who have all realised that doing things with their hands is an essential aspect of their work too. John deciding he wants to make things; Jakub talking about his grandfathers hand-made tools and how he feels about using them, Michka's biomimicry and his love for his birthplace, Peter and his community garden project, the bees Annemie and Guy are nurturing etc. Everyone prompted a host of thoughts. There is something happening here that shows us a way forward, models for the future, links between the arts, technology and ecology.
bee workshop Okno

workshop intelligent beehives at fablab barcelona

bee workshop FabLab


intelligent beehive

The research of the intelligent beehive design is inspired by nature and influenced by the biotic and abiotic elements as altitude, electromagnetism, temperature, …
We think about organic forms as spiraling (as the petals of flowers), packing (self-organised structuring of cells), weaving, blending, cracking, flocking, tiling, … as alternatives for measuring, representing, communicating, adapting, designing, …
One idea is to start from the organic conical form of a bee-swarm (cfr. pictures). For ages, beekeepers worked with straw skeps []. Here, we want to turn the cone upside down, and give the bees free space to build their comb fixed on loose top bars, resting on a wooden ring. The biodegradable sensors could be integrated into the casing material from vegetal origin. We have to keep the possibility of monitoring the hive inside, thus we have to work with a movable top cover. This roof should also protect the colony against rain and bad weather, so waterproof material is needed. (Thinking about oiled paper or parchment or other new and natural waterproof materials as beeswax or propolis - designs of chinese or japanese lanterns, …). Under the roof, we have to keep in mind ventilation for hot summers - here we are thinking about bamboo steamers or other naturally woven or fibrous materials.
The whole construction should be light, but solid enough to survive natural elements as rain and wind and strong enough to bear the weight of a bee colony and approx. 20kg of honey storage in the comb. Last but not least, we have to design an elegant support solution for the intelligent beehive. The purpose is to do guerilla beekeeping: provide beehives for unusual places in a fast and easy way.


collection of Apis mellifera and pollen images with SEM microscope, august 2013

collection of Apis mellifera and pollen images made with SEM microscope, august 2013 (Annemie Maes and Gizem Süngü at chemical engineering lab, VUB Brussels.

Forms: biology, entymology, haptic design, kinaesthetic experience, tactile haptics.
Natural material research & dyes with plants. Grow Indigofera tinctoria and Calendula officinalis at Valldaura. try also Rubia_tinctorum for a red color.
Experiments with coffee ground, jute fibers, textile scraps and plant fibers - all mixed with natural, bio-degradable glues or resins.

Presentation formats: woven carpet (N-Z junction) - perfume of wax + propolis, distillation, lab setup (bottles) - drawings - pollen: draw your neighborhood - lasercuts - laserprints - movies (Maurice Maeterlinck).
basics on plant dyes: plantaardigheden
color and perception
pollenanalyse01, report
pollenanalyse02, report
SEM microscopy
manuals for pollen preparation

april 22nd, 2013
I visited the SEM (scanning electron microscope) unit of the VUB (vrije universiteit brussels) on april 22nd 2013. Alexander Lutz gave me a quick overview of the SEM machines, and we made some images form the samples I brought with me: pollen and a bee-antenna.

pollen, 22 april 2013

This is the first step to micro-photograph the pollen the bees bring back. At the left, 2 different pollen samples (yellow and orange), magnified 4000x and 1400x. Next to it, a fragment of a bee-antenna, magnified 3500x and 5000x. One micrometer (micron or mu) is a millesimal of a millimeter. On the last picture we can clearly spot the small pollen-particles between the receptors on the antenna.
The head of the bee is the center of information gathering. It is here that the visual, gustatory and olfactory inputs are received and processed. Because honey bees live inside tree cavities (natural) or hives (man-made), both of which have little light away from the entrance. Smell and touch therefore are much important for them than visual when inside the colony. The honey bee antennae (one on each side) house thousands of sensory organs, some are specialized for touch (mechanoreceptors), some for smell (odor receptors), and others for taste (gustatory receptors). It used to be thought that honey bees couldn’t hear any airborne sound because they do not have pressure-sensitive hearing organs (like our ear-drums or similar structures on the legs of katydids). Because of this, scientists were puzzled the ways through workers can perceive the buzzing sound produced by workers during waggle dances. About 10 years ago it was discovered that bees can indeed ‘hear’ airborne sound in close range, this is through sensing the movement of air particles by the hairlike mechanoreceptors on the antennae. This discovery helped the construction of robot bees that can be directed to dance (by a computer) inside a hive and guide workers to a specific location.
head of the honeybee
Some of the pollen that were collected on 22/4/2013 (see color picture above) could be identified as coming from Viburnum tinus (66), Salix udensis (200), Rubus (249), Prunus avium (236), Malus domesticus (114), Prunus spinoza (244), Sambucus nigra (64), Vicia faba (73), Quercus robur (76), Rosmarinus officinalis, Nepeta. The number between brackets are the color-references in the pollen book of the IBRA (the International Bee Research Association). Determination of pollen sources by photographing the collected pollen with the electron microscope and compare them to the Darthmouth pollen database could give decisive answer on this pending questions.

Masatoshi Funabashi, complex systems relations in ecologies
bees as interface/sensor for gathering environmental information via the collected pollen
what are complex systems

palynology: the pollen database, a project with Masatoshi Funabashi:
June 2013 Masa and me decided to work on a joined research project that investigates the link between insects, pollen and ecosystems.
We will set up a database and compare pollen -straight from the plant- with pollen brought back by honeybees to the hive. With pattern recognition software we hope to collect information about the ecosystems foraged by the honeybees.

results honey analysis: honey analysis Urban ArtFarm - 2013 and honey analysis Valldaura 2013
Note the intresting differences: there were UAF-bees are city honeybees, they get their honey from bigger trees as the chestunut and line trees in Brussels city. The Valldaura bees are country bees, and their foraging fileds -situated in the woods of Collserola) offer more wild flowers and brambles instead of bigger tress, as all Conserola trees are merely pines and not so suitable for nectar foraging.


Honey bees are known to communicate through many different chemicals and odors, as is common in insects, but also using specific behaviours that convey information about the quality and type of resources in the environment, and where these resources are located. The details of the signalling being used vary from species to species.
Honey bees have been shown to have a wide range of cognitive skills. They are sensitive to odors (including pheromones), tastes, and colors, including ultraviolet. They learn such things as color discriminations through classical and operant conditioning and retain this information for several days at least; they communicate the location and nature of sources of food; they adjust their foraging to the times at which food is available; they may even form cognitive maps of their surroundings.
bees and beescomb

bee swarm

transmission of vibration accross honeycomb
vibrations during the honeybee waggle dance

research into green biodegradable electronics
printing with wax

Paper electronics: the use of paper as substrate and as an electronic component for the next generation of sustainable low cost electronic systems.
The gateway to edible, foldable, rollable, conformal, wearable, biodegradable and other electronics and electrics. It covers the future of lighting and the newly created mass markets for disposable electronics and affordable solar cells in vast areas but it also covers the impediments to some rollouts including materials shortages and incremental improvements to existing products instead of “thinking outside the box”. paper-e, Elvira Fortunato - Pt

bee anatomy : a bee is a bee is a bee

After visiting the Koç University in Istanbul last february, I started thinking about links between haptic robotics research, neuroscience and the antenna's of insects. Receptors, senders and receivers, input and output (but what is happening inbetween?). Stings, pheromones, poison, skin, reactions, multifaceted panoramic vision eyes, antennae with 3000 receptors, electrically charged fur for pollination purposes: examples of high tech nature and high technology. Besides its senses, let's analyze the circadian rythm of the western honeybee to understand the functioning of the super organism in the best possible way.
A profound study of the honeybees' senses is needed if we want to come up with an innovative design that can compete with the sophisticated functioning of the organism.
Compound eyes with 6.900 small lenses, each representing a pixel in an image. Antennae, responsible for the smell function (in stereo!), 100 times more sensible compared to humans. A tongue that can unfold and extend till half of the body length. Wings which beat 230 times a minute, and which can fold back to adapt to small holes (in flowers). Mandibles which can hold, pince, collect and bite. Feet with hooks and pads. Legs with pollen baskets.
And not yet spoken about the superorganisms communication methods. With pheromones (smell), vibrations and the famous waggle dance, the bodylanguage of the bees.
More info on bees senses and possible sensors for monitoring the senses:

x-ray beeexoskeleton of a honeybeehead of a honeybeexray drone

the anatomy of a honeybee
understanding bee anatomy

Karl von Frisch, the Dancing Bees : von Frisch Nobelprize lecture - decoding the language of the bee
Prof. J.Tautz : The Buzz about Bees (biology of a Super Organism)

research on biodegradable materials for Intelligent Beehive designs

For our designs, we have to think about new materials, inspired by nature. We can experiment with a list of raw materials (list without limition): corn starch, brown sugar, glutinous rice, coconut fibers, hemp, mushroom mycelium, coffee ground, linen, cotton. We can e.g. cut old natural woven carpets with the lasercutter. We can dye raw materials with color extracts from plants as indigo (from the Indigofera tinctoria) or orange from the Calendula officinalis.



natural binders & hemp

hempgrowing in fablab bcn


Propolis is a resinous mixture that honey bees collect from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive. Propolis is used for small gaps (approximately 6 millimeters (0.24 in) or less), while larger spaces are usually filled with beeswax. Its color varies depending on its botanical source, the most common being dark brown. Propolis is sticky at and above room temperature, 20 °C (68 °F). At lower temperatures, it becomes hard and very brittle.
Worker bees recover propolіs on trees аnd shrubs аnd then store іt іn theіr polen bаskets locаted on theіr hіnd legs. When they brіng propolіs to the hіve, mаson bees tаke іt аnd іmmedіаtely stаrt the work. Propolіs іs then mіxed wіth wаx, bees аlso аdd а lіttle of theіr own sаlіvа to mаke іt more mаlleаble.
More info on propolis.


The hive is a system of homeostasis. Homeostasis is the property of a system that regulates its internal environment and tends to maintain a stable, constant condition of properties like temperature or pH. It can be either an open or closed system.
A medium sized nest needs 1200gr wax to be build, and 7,5 kg honey for the energy. Beeswax is composed of more than 300 different chemical components.
The vertical comb construction is parallel to the earth magnetic field, the bees can construct this way thanks to the gravity receptors (organs) that are situated in all their legs and body joints.
note: Check online the molecular composition of hot wax and cold wax (order and chaos).
This is a good paper on the different properties of beeswax: physical, chemical, medical, etc…
beeswax properties,00:01:15,00:01:36.646
The bees’ body is the basic template for the construction of a wax cell. From a cylindrical form the cells become hexagonal under the tension of the regurlarly constructed comb and heated by the bees’ bodyheath (cfr. soap bubbles joining together). The wax wall of a cell is 0,07mm. The antennae of the bees measure the cells’ thickness.
More info on wax and combbuilding.
On beeswax and propolis wax-perfume.

3D model printing with beeswax
reprap heads and wax
beeswax melting point is around 62°C-64°C
It could be intresting to print with a mixture of oil macerate and beeswax. That way we can color the substance, give it a specific smell and control its viscosity.


research organic beehiveresearch organic beehiveresearch on organic beehivemais-draden

First research for an organic beehive design. Plantfibers from sunflowers and Calendula officinalis, a mix of dried herbs and seeds, recycled paper.
paper from plants
papermaking from plants
new organic materials for beehives / artefacts

flax, linen

Waxed Linen is a strong, wax-coated cloth thread woven from flax fiber

overview of a season growing 2 kinds of indigo: Indigofera tinctoria and american indigo (Amorpha fruticosa)
coloring with indigo:

Amorpha fruticosaAmorpha fruticosa - leafIndigofera tinctoria - leafIndigofera tinctoria

Indigofera tinctoria, Amorpha fruticosa and indigo powder cake


Spelt is een wintergraan. Dit wil zeggen dat de zaaitijd valt vanaf oktober tot december. Bij deze overwinterende graansoort is de inwerking van kou en vorst nodig om te kunnen bloeien en dus om aren te kunnen laten ontwikkelen. Wanneer men Spelt zaait in het voorjaar, dan bestaat de kans dat de aar zich niet ontwikkeld maar blijft steken in het grasachtige stadium. De consequentie hiervan is echter dat wintergraan over een zekere kouderesistentie en winterhardheid moet beschikken om de winter goed te doorstaan. De kiem ontwikkelt zich nog voor de winter tot een kiemplantje met drie á vier blaadjes. In dit stadium overwintert de plant waarna in het volgende voorjaar, wanneer de gemiddelde dagtemperatuur ongeveer boven 5 graden Celsius komt (bij ons is dat in de tweede helft van maart of in de eerste helft van april), de ontwikkeling van de graanplant verder gaat. Al gauw begint zij een aantal zijspruiten te maken (periode van uitstoelen) waarna de periode van stengel- of halmstrekking (het schieten) begint. Bij het begin van de stengelstrekking zijn de halmbladeren, die later gevormd zullen worden, en de aar al aanwezig in aanleg. De periode van 'schieten' wordt dan ook afgesloten met het verschijnen van de aar uit de schede van het laatste halmblad.
spelt groeien

spelt groeiproces

Winterrogge gezaaid in UAF, november 2013 - monitor de groeifases, zie timeline UAF-2013

research on Forms for an Intelligent Beehive, based upon biomimesis

guerilla beehives research

Nest site selection by the honey bee, Apis mellifera (Springer) :

  • Honey bees exhibit preferences in several nest site properties. The following preferences were identified («>» means «preferred to»): nest height, 5>1 m; entrance area, 12.5>75 cm2; entrance position, bottom >top of nest cavity, entrance direction, southward>northward; nest cavity volume, 10<40>100 liters.
  • The data also suggest preferences exist for previously inhabited nest cavities and for nest sites beyond 300 m from the parent colony.
  • Nest sites with high exposure and visibility were occupied more rapidly than sites with low exposure and visibility. However, this difference probably reflects differential ease of nest site discovery rather than a preference for exposed nest sites.
  • No preferences were found in the following variables: entrance shape (slit vs. circle), nest cavity shape (cube vs. tall parallelepiped), cavity draftiness (sound vs. drafty), and cavity dryness (wet vs. dry). Cavity draftiness and dryness are probably important to bees, but because bees can seal and waterproof their nests, they may be less demanding about these two nest site variables than about those they cannot modify.
  • The complex process of nest site selection apparently benefits a honey bee colony in several ways, including facilitation of colony defense and hygiene, simplification of nest construction and microclimate control, and reduction of foraging competition with the parent colony.

Order out of chaos, Voronoi patterns, comb, Buckminster Fuller, comb and domes, leafs, veins, citymaps, woven cocofibre, fibonacci series, chinese hats, N55 housing units, snowflakes and hexagons.Expandable dried mushrooms. Algues & seaweed.

research resources

scientific papers
Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems, enhanced insects
Automated monitoring and analysis of social behavior in Drosophila
bee colony disorder an threats - UNEP
about bees
bee democracy or collective decision making

case studies, field studies, bees & flowers
la Molina meetings on Intelligent Beehives
Valldaura, self sufficient lab
electrical impulses on flowers
the western honeybee
bees and neonicotinoïdes
supermarket without bees

walls of corn
resin fruit, data tree
biomimicry sea urchin

monitored beehives
Bangor, Manchester
e-nose for automatic determination of nectar sources

Tooling - Aranda/Lash [pamphlet architecture 27]
Folding Architecture: spatial, structural and organizatorial diagrams - Sophia Vyzoviti [Bis Publishers]
Beekeeping and Honey Hunting - Eva Crane [Routledge, NY]
A world without bees - Allison Benjamin and Brian Mc Callum [Pegasus Books]
Cradle to Cradle: remaking the way we make things - William Mc Donough and Michael Braungart [North Point Press]
Biomimicry: innovation inspired by nature - Janine Benyus [Harper Perennial]
How life learned to live - Helmut Tributsch [MIT]
The gecko's foot: bio inspiration engineered from nature - Peter Forbes [Fourth Estate]

silence of the bees
vanishing of the bees
AI bee tracking ⇒ youtube movies
More than Honey : the movie
citybees at okno - live stream
Tales from the hive

intelligent_beehives.txt · Last modified: 2016/01/13 17:48 by