On the corner of a dirt road that winds through cacti and summer-brown treetops in central Israel, a quiet revolution is underway to save the world’s pollinators. It comes in the form of a nondescript tin box, the size of a small container, with bees buzzing around it.
The box is the creation of Beewise Technologies, an Israeli start-up that uses artificial intelligence, computer vision, sensors and advanced robotics to save honey bees – which are dying in large numbers thanks to humans – and thus save the world from starvation.
“Seventy-five percent of all fruits and vegetables on earth are pollinated by bees,” said Saar Safra, founder and CEO of the kibbutz startup. Fate as he carefully pulled out a frame from inside the building to reveal the honey inside. “They pollinate everything: lettuce, apples, avocados, tomatoes, cucumbers, almonds, cotton, coffee.” We literally live on the stuff they pollinate. On the other hand, 40% of beehives collapse every year.”
To curb the destruction, the startup has “reengineered the hive,” Safra said. It has replaced traditional, 150-year-old wooden box-shaped hives with the BeeHome: a mobile caravan-like structure that houses and monitors the bees while performing essential beekeeping tasks.
The beehive provides beekeepers with important data on the well-being of the striped insects that feed on pollen and nectar and live on the way to honey. Each BeeHome can host 24 hives or 24 hives, each of which can hold from 30,000 to 50,000 bees plus one queen in a hive.
Beewise says BeeHome has the potential to reduce bee mortality by 80%, resulting in an increase in harvest of at least 50%, while eliminating approximately 90% of the manual labor required in traditional beekeeping.
“Unprecedented threat of extinction”
According to the United Nations, “Nearly 90% of the world’s wild flowering plant species are wholly, or at least partially, dependent on animal pollination, along with more than 75% of the world’s food crops and 35% of the world’s cultivated land.” Pollinators not only contribute directly to food security, but are key to preserving biodiversity.”
But bees are facing an unprecedented threat of extinction, 100 to 1,000 times higher than before, due to human influence, the UN warns.
“There are over 25,000 species of bees that have existed for more than 100 million years,” said Sharoni Shafir, director of the B. Triwaks Bee Research Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who confirmed the successful collaboration of food for pollination. between bees and plants, which has existed for millions of years, is being undermined by human activities and rapid population growth.
Instead of fields of flowers that feed bees, apartment and office towers have been replaced by apartment and office towers, and sprawling cities are eating up open spaces that were once full of plants. Intensive farming practices have transformed open fields into efficient agricultural enterprises focused on high-yielding crops.
Bees have access to less food diversity as a result, leading to an unbalanced diet that makes them sicker. Chemicals are making their way into bees’ bodies, harming their navigation and immune systems as well as their learning abilities, Shafir said. And while cheap and easy travel has enabled the movement of both humans and animals, this has also contributed to the spread of viruses and pests, such as the bee-killing varroa mite, along with climate change.
Hive monitoring with artificial intelligence
To preserve the health of bees and their important role, Beewise says, BeeHome enables beekeepers to better monitor their colonies and take immediate action if danger is imminent.
One of the biggest problems for beekeepers is their inability to manage colonies in real time, according to Beewise’s Safra. Because of the large size of the fields, especially in the United States, beekeepers often have to drive for hours to tend to their hives, and they may only go about once a month.
“During that month, all kinds of bad things can happen,” Safra said. “We realized it’s not about knowing what’s going on, it’s about being able to react in real time.”
Sensors and cameras monitor what’s happening inside the hive, controlling climate change, humidity and pests, and react immediately by moving a robotic arm into the box or using a heating device to treat pests. The robotic arm – which looks like a tall TV monitor and fills in for the beekeeper – can also detect when honey-filled frames are ready and harvest them in the BeeHome. When a honey container reaches a volume of 100 liters, beekeepers are notified to empty it.
BeeHomes are solar powered and communicate with each other as well as the beekeeper via a mobile network. The company plans to launch a more compact version of its BeeHome with all the features but fewer hives in the first half of 2023, Safra said.
A large number of colonists colonists
Beewise isn’t the only company in this space, but it has raised the most funding “by far,” according to Crunchbase. The Israeli startup has so far raised $119 million from investors including Insight Partners, Corner Ventures and Sanad Abu Dhabi, which in March participated in an $80 million Series C funding round.
At least 15 bee-related startups globally have raised funding in recent years, according to Crunchbase data. Together, they have raised about $165 million for companies that offer everything from installing sensors in traditional beehives to providing robotic pollination methods as an alternative to bees and making artificial honey.
“There are probably somewhere between 15 and 20 technology companies operating in this field, and in one way or another, every technology has potential; each one is a response to a need,” said Sabiha Malik, who founded the World Bee Project in 2014 to use artificial intelligence and new technologies to assess pollination and biodiversity declines based on global data.
“In the last [few] “years have revolutionized the application of remote sensing and data analytics to manage honey bee colonies,” said Malik. “For the first time, agricultural inputs can be measured and controlled directly in real time and this has led to precision pollination.
The World Bee Project is working with BeeHero, an Israeli-founded startup based in Fresno, Calif., to use its advanced monitoring sensor technology to gain “a better understanding of the wonderful balance between farming practices, pollination, climate and the local environment,” she said. “In the process we hope to develop new tools and guidelines.
Together with the University of Reading and Oracle for Research, the World Bee Project and BeeHero are working on a project to set a new standard for optimal bee pollination, according to Malik.
BeeHero provides beekeepers with sensors installed in traditional wooden hives to collect data in the hive and environmental information. The data is then analyzed using algorithms to predict hive diseases. The company has raised $24 million to date.
Meanwhile, New York-based Ubees, founded in 2017, uses connected sensors to improve pollination efficiency and bee health. And Los Angeles-based Beeflow, which has raised $12 million, has developed a specially nutritious bee food to help boost bees’ immune systems to make them stronger and more efficient workers.
Arab-Israeli technical cooperation
Israel “is in a leading position globally” in bee technology, said Ido Yosovzon, who heads the agricultural food technology sector at Tel Aviv-based non-profit Start-Up Nation Central.
Pollination is a particularly important factor in agriculture, he said, and “Israel is world-renowned for agricultural technology,” as the 74-year-old country constantly struggles with water shortages, desert conditions and hot temperatures.
According to research firm Startup Genome, Tel Aviv is the fourth largest ag-tech ecosystem after Silicon Valley, New York City and London.
Israel’s Edete Precision Technologies for Agriculture manufactures automatic pollination machines for artificial pollination of crops. Another startup, Arugga AI Farming, created a robot whose vibrations mimic the buzzing of bumblebees as a way to induce pollination. ToBe Influencing Innovation developed a self-contained fumigation device to combat the deadly varroa mite in beehives.
Yosovzon said that the $80 million raised by Beewise in its latest funding round is not only the largest investment in business technology in Israel, it is also a sign of the changing regional reality, which has seen Israel form economic ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Bahrain. Morocco after signing the historic Abrahamic Covenant two years ago.
“We’re seeing in the past two years or so a very, very strong interest from the Gulf states in everything related to food security,” Yosovzon said.
According to the non-profit organization PLANETech, there are nearly 700 climate technology companies in Israel operating in various fields, including agriculture, energy, food, smart mobility, water and the circular economy.
The search for technology that can help mitigate climate change is paving the way for a new regional diplomacy, said Yariv Becher, vice president of innovation diplomacy at Start-Up Nation Central. Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco are working together to build a “framework for climate cooperation and innovation,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Beewise, Safra says there is “a sense of urgency…When we think about global warming and climate change, we tend to think about carbon in the air, rising sea levels, desertification and so on.” But these things will really hurt the planet in 50 to 100 years. Bees, which are declining at a rate of 40% year on year, will disappear from our planet in 20 to 25 years. This is the key reason why we took on this project.”
Global food supply could be at risk in a few decades because of this.
“We won’t eat more avocados or tomatoes if we don’t have bees,” he said. “So we’re in a hurry. Our company is in favor. We’ve raised $120 million in less than three years, because if we don’t hurry, it’s all going to waste.”