The Beekeeper’s Companion and Healthy Honey Bees
My first thoughts about HiveTracks in 2008 revolved around the key idea of giving beekeepers, myself included, assistance with their beekeeping adventure via technology in a way that helps each of us keep healthy honey bees. Those original thoughts have never wavered and are as important today as they were in the beginning and continue to shape the direction of HiveTracks with the upcoming release of our new mobile app that includes a newly designed backend infrastructure that will support our data driven philosophy for years to come.
Much has changed in the beekeeping technology world and our understanding of honey bee health since those early days. First of all, myself and everyone associated with HiveTracks has learned so much about how beekeepers interact with technology, what the barriers are to adopting technology and using it well, and what data is most important to track to keep bees healthy. At the same time bee researchers have been able to clearly articulate the most important factors affecting honey bee health and to identify best management practices for beekeepers. I was directly engaged with the research work in the United States as a principal investigator with the Bee Informed Partnership both as a technology creator and a participant in projects like the Sentinel Apiary program and field level research about best management practices. The technology landscape itself has also changed tremendously with full featured mobile apps taking the place of web-based apps, data analytics and machine learning becoming mainstream, and IoT device research and development continuing to mature (although slower than one would expect). These technology advances offer new opportunities to address nagging challenges in the beekeeping sector.
The Beekeeper’s Companion app is the next big step in HiveTracks’ ongoing quest to realize the original vision from 2008, and the growing and dynamic team at HiveTracks is excited about the new path being forged. Building on the foundation of the past ten years, we have designed the app to be:
Easy to use, fun, and useful - a user centered design process ensures these principles are maintained throughout the app experience.
Task oriented - the driving question for any beekeeper is “What should I do next?” and the app will help you answer that ongoing question.
Reimagined data collection - data is foundational to what you do, but collecting it should be as frictionless as possible, so we limit data collection to what we believe are the most useful data points giving the most value to you the beekeeper.
Mobile first - all interactions are through your mobile device including offline functionality.
Data driven - while not data focused from the user experience side, we are confident in and committed to the value of data in the beekeeper’s decision making process. And as outlined in previous blog posts, valuable data comes from a variety of sources in addition to the beekeeper’s own observations:
Weather - in app guidance on good bee weather days.
Community - notifications and guidance based on what other beekeepers are experiencing in your area.
Beekeeping calendar - what should be happening this time of year for bees in your area, including location specific blooming information.
The result of bringing The Beekeeper’s Companion into your beekeeping experience is greater success and satisfaction as a beekeeper: healthy bees = happy beekeeper. Why do I believe this is true? Our experience with HiveTracks’ users over the years means we know what works and what doesn’t from a technology adoption and usability viewpoint. Analysis of ten years of HiveTracks’ beekeeper data is providing valuable insights that are incorporated into the new app - one example is a correlation between the number of inspections during the season and winter survival rate. And a number of research studies have shown that following a few best management practices makes a significant difference in reducing colony mortality, and your beekeeping companion will be by your side to guide and encourage you in performing these key tasks. Finally, The Beekeeper’s Companionapp ushers in a new era of data driven beekeeping, leveraging multiple data sources (your data, community beekeeper data, weather, land use/area floral sources and associated bloom periods) to provide information to you the beekeeper for making the best decisions possible for your hives.
I along with the HiveTracks team eagerly anticipate the release of The Beekeeper’s Companion for all of the reasons above, but know that the new app is really only the first step, the gateway to a number of new and exciting endeavors we have planned. A couple of sneak preview ideas are a data driven honey traceability solution and ecosystem services accounting, which is evaluating the broader impacts that your beekeeping is making within the forage radius of your honey bees.. Stay tuned as we continue to pursue this line of thinking in the R&D side of HiveTracks.