Open Source Beehives Project

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= aims to lower the barriers to backyard beekeeping with simple, low-cost hive designs


"Using Sensor Enhanced Beehives to Track Bee Decline"


1. Ben Schiller:

"Farmers are going to need to rebuild the bee population, and that means more hives and more beekeepers. The Open Source Beehives Project is hoping to achieve that by spreading simple, low-cost hive designs to make it easy for anyone to start their own, and encouraging collaboration among designers, technologists, researchers, and bee lovers. So far, it has two templates: the Colorado Top Bar and the Warré. The groups behind the designs are working on improvements all the time.

"The design is printable from a single sheet of plywood, highly transportable, and assembles in minutes without screws or glues, like a Wikihouse for bees," says Tristan Copley Smith, from Open Tech Forever, a group that disseminates open-source technology. Open Tech Forever came up with the open-source hive concept at about the same time as another group, Fab Lab Barcelona, and now the two are hoping to get others involved.

As well as propagating cheaper hives, their aim is also to improve bee monitoring. Both designs call for cheap sensors that measure humidity, temperature, and other readings. This will help beekeepers track the health of colonies and researchers learn more about what actually happens inside the hive.

"Our aim is to create a mesh network of smart colonies, generating data to share openly on the Smart Citizen platform for study of Colony Collapse Disorder and its causes," Copley Smith says. "We want to encourage and lower barriers to backyard beekeeping, while educating best practices and creating automated alert systems for beekeepers."

The Open Source Beehives Project has more about its plans and how you can get involved in this open letter. "We're currently looking for collaborators interested in testing out hives and sensors with active colonies, preferably in the southern hemisphere where it's currently spring," Copley Smith says. "We'd like to do as much testing as possible before launching a Kickstarter campaign in January"." (


Interview of the founders of the project by Simone Cicero:

"[Tristan Copley Smith]: ”The project began like a lot of open source projects do… an itch. In this case it was an itch caused by an increasingly prevalent ecological issue. I grew up in a very green place called Kew Gardens in London, and have always been fascinated by the natural world – as a child, I remember there being lots of bees buzzing around, especially in Spring. But these days, it’s worryingly quiet. That’s when the itch started.

Aaron Makaruk, my partner at Open Tech Collaborative [], felt the same. We started thinking about how the open source movement could somehow help alleviate this issue. Then, by chance, I went to Fab Lab Barcelona to film Tomas Diez for a project. There, he introduced me to Jon Minchin, who had been working on a bee-related project in Spain for a few months. Jon and his team had been monitoring bees using a sensor board called the Smart Citizen, developed by Tomas last year. Suddenly it clicked. By combining open source designs, low cost manufacturing, and robust sensors, we could create an awesome citizen science project that might begin to alleviate bee decline and scratch that itch.

So Fab Lab Barcelona and Open Tech Collaborative joined forces to make the vision a reality. (You can read more about the projects beginnings here

[Simone Cicero]: How open source beehives wants to solve this problem: why you guys think people will start building open source beehives? Is DIY already part of the communities practice? How do you plan to reach out to the quite huge community of beekeepers worldwide?

[TCS]: We want to solve bee decline in three ways. The first is through advocacy – ie. spreading awareness about the problem. People can respond to this directly by planting local plants in their gardens for bees to eat and by stopping to use any form of pesticide in their home or garden, but also by becoming backyard beekeepers!

The second element of our project is to facilitate backyard beekeepers by making hives cheaper and more accessible. We think that backyard beekeeping is one of the pivotal movements that can help strengthen bee populations. As one of our supporters said recently: “It’s better to have 20,000 people with one colony than one person with 20,000 colonies.”

The logic behind this is quite simple. When you have too many bees in close proximity, as with large commercial bee operations, viruses, fungi and parasites spread like wildfire. When you keep bees in your back yard, the colony has its own space (which you can keep pesticide free) and is not exposed to the same risks. Essentially, it’s taking the ‘industry’ out of beekeeping, which is a great thing as far as we’re concerned.

The third element of the project is our sensors. With the funds raised from our Indiegogo campaign we’ll be developing a state of the art sensor shield to add to the Smart Citizen Kit. This shield will monitor health-indicating conditions in your hive, including the number of bees going in and out, humidity, temperature, and volatile organic compounds, like pesticides. All this data is streamed to the Smart Citizen platform in realtime, so if your colony collapses, you can back track the data online and figure out what was the cause.

Now imagine we have hundreds of these hives in operation around the world. We could start to compile this data to figure out, at scale, what is causing CCD. If it’s something to do with pesticides, as many people suspect, we could PROVE this in court, and hold the perpetrators to account.

Some beekeepers (or ‘beeks’ as they describe themselves: bee-geeks) have been generally a little skeptical of our project. We wish this wasn’t the case, but we sort of get it. We’re coming into a hugely historic culture of beekeeping and saying “heres something new (and better)!” and thye’re like “who the heck are these guys?” I reckon they suspect we’re in this for the money or something… which isn’t the case, because there’s really no money in this! But some beekeepers get the vision, and have been extremely supportive. We hope to prove our value to the others via our actions and by the unique insights our project will be generating.

[SC]: What’s the peculiarity of building an open source solution for the bee collapse problem?

[TCS]: I suppose the peculiarity is in combining open source technology with environmentalism. You don’t see that so often, but we are hopeful that you will in the future. These two movements share so much, and can help each other in such a significant way. It just takes people to connect the dots between ecological problems and technological solutions, and then tap into the concerns of citizens. As our project is seeing, they will respond!

Also, the concept of open source invites collaboration, and indicates that the project is ALWAYS open to improvement (from anyone). We’d love more people to get involved developing sensors, designing new hives, and using the data we’ll generate to map and study bee related issues.

[SC] Why are you guys working on this specific problem? I mean, for sure this is one of the most pressing ecological issues we’re experiencing, but is it to be considered an exemplary? Should we consider open source as a tool to solve our most pressing ecological issues? What other fields of application are you guys thinking about?

[TCS] We think the bee problem is key because it has for so long seemed hopeless. The public are bombarded with all this negative press about bee decline, and there seems no avenue to help them… we just wait for government departments (like the USDA, who’s current Deputy Commissioner was Monsanto’s former CEO…) to regulate our way out of this problem.

So the system is broken, and we can no longer trust regulators, so what do we do? As concerned citizens of this planet, we need to start taking these issues into our own hands, and working together to build our own avenues towards change. The open source community is really responsive to these types of ideas – and we hope to inspire growth in the open-eco-tech sphere (if that’s even a sphere…). There is just so much to be done – so many problems to address!

In terms of next projects, I’ve personally thought about bat decline, which is another pressing issue with less publicity than the bees. If anyone out there is up for taking that one on, it’s a very important issue. Right now, we’re focussed on bees!

[SC]: The Role of Communities: makers, Fablab… what’s your experience in mobilizing these players? Are they being important for the project success so far? How did the OSBH community spread towards makers worldwide?

[TCS]: I’m a filmmaker by trade, so I have some of the skills needed to get the word out. The last video I produced in November seemed to strike a nerve, so we got a lot of response from that, leading to articles and interviews etc. We were also lucky to have Fab Lab Barcelona as a partner, so getting the word out to other Fab Labs was made a little easier.

As of writing, we’ve had a hive printed in New Zealand, Paris and California – as well as Barcelona, London and Denver, where our team have been active." (

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