Toward learning the skills necessary to build a data logging system for my bee hives, there are three podcasts that I've been listening to every week. The first, The Amp Hour, features a couple of electrical engineers going on about stuff they find interesting. It's hard to explain, but if you're at all interested in hardware engineering, you should follow this podcast! The other two, Zombie Tech and First Spin, are by atdiy and whisker at tymkrs.com. They have been building an online community with a range of podcasts, IRC chat and forums at tymkrs.com, and they recently started building a community hackerspace in their basement! They invited me to join them on their Zombie Tech podcast where they ponder on the technologies needed to survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse.
It turns out that bees would be incredibly useful toward restarting civilization in a zombie apocalypse. Besides the benefits of honey and wax in a world where sugar and wax is scarce, bees can easily double the yield of any flowering plants and trees!
On the off chance that the blog picks up a couple new readers after the interview, here's a summary of the bee hive datalogging project. It was originally inspired by NASA's Honey Bee Net that is soliciting volunteers to record a daily weight for bee hives. This provides data on when plants are putting out nectar and can be correlated with satellite images of vegetation to better understand how climate and changes in land use can affect the interactions between plants and their pollenators.
The apiaries where I keep bees are both over half an hour from my house, and with a couple little kids, I don't have a chance to measure their weight every day. I figured I should be able to build a system to monitor the weight remotely, and although it's turned into a bigger project than I thought, I'm still on schedule to have a prototype running (or debugging) when the bees come out to collect honey with the warmer weather in March.
I've taken a postal scale and modified it to house the electronics for the datalogging system. I'm using an Arduino Fio to collect the data from the scale and a few temperature probes, and XBee radios to transmit the data to an ethernet connection where it can be uploaded to the internet. I'm just ready to test and (hopefully) install the second version of the control board after which I should be able to get good, reliable measurements of power draw to let me spec and purchase the solar power system that will keep it running 24/7 through the summer.
While the first system is just coming together, I'll be working on adding to it (i.e. adding scales to monitor multiple hives) and, more importantly, bringing down the cost so it can reasonably be deployed more widely. In particular, using a $160 postal scale seems excessive, but it's the only way I've been able to ensure that the strain gauges measuring weight are calibrated for temperature. I have to believe a cheaper solution exists -- something without the fancy readout that just outputs a calibrated signal -- but it's beyond my current capabilities.
Further, it's looking like I'll have to keep the scale on 24/7 even though I really only need measurements every 5 -30 minutes. The scales tend to tare to zero when they are powered off, so unless I can find a model that outputs an absolute reading (i.e. doesn't tare) or can save the tare level on power down, the solar power system is going to have to be much larger (and more expensive).
Finally, I've gotten in touch with Hydronics who posted a really cool Instructable on counting bees at the hive entrance. While I'm not sure I'll have this finished in time for the early spring, I've designed an experimental PCB to try out some ideas I had to reduce the power consumption of his design by pulsing the detectors.
[UPDATE] In the podcast, I couldn't remember the name of the "Bee Bible." Of course it's The Hive and the Honey Bee, published by Dadant. Make sure to get it at Dadant as it's marked up $20 or so at Amazon.com!