In a kibbutz in the Galilee, an Israeli start-up is building robotic hives that monitor bees 24 hours a day and reduce the mortality of these major pollinators, guarantors of food security.
“There are two million bees here,” Shlomki Frankin said as he entered a 12-square-meter white container, standing in the middle of the avocado fields of Kibbutz Bet Haemek in northern Israel.
The container called "Beehome" can house 24 hives, explains to AFP the 41-year-old beekeeper who wears a hat with a veil to protect himself from possible stings.
These bee houses function like normal wooden hives, except that they are managed by a robot placed inside which monitors these insects, controls their habitat and provides care for them, specifies Mr. Frankin who works for the Beewise company at the origin of the mega hive.
Having come to carry out a control visit, he observes the electrical device which moves in the center of the buzzing box and pulls out a frame of honey in which honey bees are clustered.
“The robot is equipped with sensors that allow it to know what is happening in the frames”, explains to AFP Netaly Harari, director of operations of Beewise.
“Thanks to artificial intelligence, our software knows what the bees need,” she says in the workshop where the large metal hives are assembled.
The robot can also automatically dispense sugar, water, medicine.
In the event of a problem, it alerts the beekeeper via an application. The latter can then intervene remotely from his computer and move if necessary.
The mega hive, which runs on solar energy, can also regulate the temperature, eliminate nuisances and even extract honey, thanks to an integrated centrifuge, Netaly Harari claims.
The start-up will for the first time produce honey from the end of May, the “first honey in the world made with artificial intelligence! enthused Ms. Harari.
For Shlomki Frankin, "the robot is a tool for the beekeeper, but it does not replace it".
"I can do a lot of simple tasks remotely like expanding the hive or shrinking it (...) or let the robot do that and focus on other tasks," he says, adding "save a lot of time."
A hundred of these robotic hives have already been deployed in Israel and a dozen in the United States. Beewise is eyeing an entry into the European market in two years.
In April, the start-up created in 2018, which has more than 100 employees, raised around 76 million euros in investment to develop its exports.
According to Professor Sharoni Shafir, who heads the Hebrew University's Center for Bee Studies in Rehovot, the technology can help protect increasingly fragile bee colonies.
"Sometimes a beekeeper takes several months to realize a problem, with the robot, he can take care of the problem in real time, this reduces the mortality of the bees," he told AFP.
In recent years, many of them have disappeared around the world, victims of “colony collapse syndrome”, attributed to the combination of several factors.
"The decrease in flower fields as a result of construction has reduced the sources and diversification of bee food," notes the expert.
Added to this is the use of pesticides, diseases and parasites such as Varroa destructor, a devastating mite, lists Professor Shafir.
“In Israel, between 20 and 30% of the hives disappear each year”, however, “we depend on bees”, affirms the entomologist who recalls that a significant part of the human diet results from pollination, provided by insects which allows plants to reproduce.
More than 70% of crops - almost all fruits, vegetables, oilseeds and protein crops, spices, coffee and cocoa - depend very heavily on it.
"Bees and other pollinators are essential for food security and nutrition", sums up the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which celebrates World Bee Day on May 20 to highlight the importance of their preservation.