It's been a fun and busy last two days as our project got picked up by Wired Magazine for a story. (I have to thanks Hans at ioBridge for putting them in touch with me). Of course, the glory is short lived as news stories have a very short half-life these days, but for a humble hobbyist like me, it's a happy achievement.
Wired were really intrigued to understand the motivation of the project and how the tech made it possible for our bumblebees to generate tweets based on their activity. We had to explain the lifecycle of bumblebees and the challenges they face and why climate is affecting them.
I spent half an hour or so talking to Olivia, associate editor, and answered a few email questions and she did a wonderful job of writing the story and included my pictures too - so, to say I was thrilled is an understatement.
Thankfully I didn't suffer a "Stephen Fry" on my site - i.e. a total deluge that takes it out - but there has been plenty of interest in the story. We got a retweet too from Martha Kearney (radio 4 presenter and avid honey bee keeper) which generated some more traffic. Most of the reaction has been "awesome" or "what a cool idea!" - obviously I would agree! The reaction has been really positive and encouraging. The good news really is that it helps to further raise awareness of bumblebees and their plight and that can only be a good thing.
Under the covers
Key to the whole story is what goes on "under the covers" to monitor the activity of our bumblebees. My current implementation is nothing better than a prototype or "proof of concept", but I'm delighted that Zettlex (a company in Cambridge, specialising in high tech sensors) have really taken up the challenge of helping me create a "next-generation" wax-moth flap system that can track the entrance and exit activity from the nest very accurately. I really can't thank those guys enough and I can't wait to go live and take our data capture and monitoring to the next level. I must also mention Dragonfli, providers of the colony and lodge, who have also donated some "wax moth kit" components to help make it all happen.
There's something wonderful about the way these smaller companies are able and willing to help, and tackle new challenges - it's very inspiring and I'm very grateful to them.
To give an insight into the type of data we'll be collecting, our bumbles were very co-operative today and fairly busy. The data from my current system is show below:
This is very, very basic data, as you can see - and making sense of it to draw insight is a challenge I still have. For the meantime, we generate some simple tweets which gives visibility of what information is being generated.
However, the Zettlex system is way surperior, and the sensor itself offers the ability to do things like measure and time the inputs (e.g. the amount the flap is moved) to create different triggers. It could, therefore, in principle detect the difference between workers and queens using the flap. Or detect the difference between entrance and exit by the way the flap is pushed and extended. There's a whole ream of possibilities, most of which we haven't though of yet. I'm very excited - gotta run before we walk though. ☺
It's still early days, but I think it's fair to say this part of our project has captured the imagination and has the potential to reveal some fascinating insights into just how busy our busy bees are.