Oct. 18, 2021

Beewise and Bee Hive Automation with CEO Saar Safar (S4, E18)

Beewise and Bee Hive Automation with CEO Saar Safar  (S4, E18)

Imagine a completely automated beekeeping operation. Well, BeeWise has created the Bee Home, housing 24 colonies that is a solar powered, insulated, and completely automated for every beekeeping management task. Saar Safar, our guest today, was...


SaarImagine a completely automated beekeeping operation. Well, BeeWise has created the Bee Home, housing 24 colonies that is a solar powered, insulated, and completely automated for every beekeeping management task. Saar Safar, our guest today, was approached by a beekeeper that had a rough idea of what he wanted, and Saar put his own skills at mechanical and digital automation to work and BeeWise came to be.

The Bee Home is totally self-contained and requires almost no beekeeper assistance. There are 24 colonies in each unit, 12 colonies on each side of the bee home that open to the outside. Inside the bee home box there is a space between the two sides that a robot occupies. It can move from front to back, and it can inspect each of the hives from inside. It removes a frame, examines its condition relative to brood, disease, food and more, and sends the data to the cloud where a beekeeper can make appropriate management decisions.

Bee HouseAnnual losses in the Beewise bee homes are less than 10%, which is a real plus. Labor costs to manage and supply food for the robot to feed colonies, or remove the extracted honey are minute when compared to traveling to remote beeyards, having to examine each hive and then managing it for survival. The costs are evolving, but at this time there is no initial upfront purchase cost. Then $400/month for each unit containing 24 colonies. That’s $200/year for each colony with essentially no labor costs and less than 10% annual loss. Almond pollination will pay the rent, and the honey made is only a plus, along with the many extra bees available to split and sell.

They’ve been at this for several years, improving and adding features and testing these units, and thousands of colonies have been managed in them, and it seems they have it down. Take a look at the web page and see for yourself. BeeWise. Completely automated beekeeping.

Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:

Honey Bee Obscura

______________

This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will help ensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode! 

We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com

Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping TodayStrong Microbials Podcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website: https://www.strongmicrobials.com

2 Million Blossoms

We want to also thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor of the podcast. 2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine destined for
your coffee table. Each page of the magazine is dedicated to the stories and photos of all pollinators and written by leading researchers, photographers and our very own, Kim Flottum.

_______________

We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments: questions@beekeepingtodaypodcast.com

Follow Beekeeping Today Podcast today!

Thanks to Bee Culture, the Magazine of American Beekeeping, for their support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. Available in print and digital at www.beeculture.com

Bee Culture Magazine

Thank you for listening! 

Podcast music: Young Presidents, "Be Strong"; Musicalman, "Epilogue". Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott

Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC

Growing Planet Media, LLC

Transcript

S4, E18 – Beewise and Bee Hive Automation with CEO Saar Safar

[music]

Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.

Kim Flottum: I'm Kim Flottum.

Introduction: Hey, Jeff and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. It's a good time to think about honey bee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow.

Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honey bees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at www.globalpatties.com.

Jeff: Thanks, Global Patties. Each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support and you know we'd rather get right talking about beekeeping. Our sponsors are critical to help making all this happen from hosting fees to software, to hardware, to microphones, to weekly subs, monthly subscriptions, everything. They help each episode happen. With that, thanks to Bee Culture magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture's been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today. We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms as sponsor of this episode.

2 Million Blossoms is a quarterly magazine dedicated protecting all pollinators. Learn more on our season 2 episode 9 podcast with editor Kirsten Traynor and from visiting www.2millionblossoms.com and that is with a number 2. Also, check out the new 2 Million Blossoms, the podcast, available from the 2 Million Blossoms website or from wherever you download and stream your shows. Everybody, thanks for sticking through all of that and thanks for joining us. We're truly happy you're here. Hey, Kim, how are your bees doing?

Kim: My bees are doing good, Jeff. I want to mention one thing first, is that I've been hearing from some of our sponsors that they're getting a lot of attention from our listeners.

Jeff: Fantastic.

Kim: Listeners, we appreciate the fact that you are responding to this, and I'm glad our sponsors are happy with us.

Jeff: That's good news.

Kim: My bees, I harvested this week.

Jeff: Oh, wow. That's good.

Kim: I didn't harvest much because I had to share what I got from the good ones with the ones that weren't so good. I left more of it out there than I took home, but I did okay and finished getting them ready for bed down another week or so and call it a season.

Jeff: Last week we talked about it, but did you use your leaf blower?

Kim: I did. It's just really fast and I went over and helped a friend. My friend harvests honey by pulling a frame and knocking the bees off at the front door.

Jeff: [laughs]

Kim: It takes him a month to harvest honey and there's bees in the air. I went over to help him and this time I took my blower and a mile of a electric cord, and we were done in an hour.

Jeff: I hope he's listening because last week after our discussion about the leaf blowers, my question about, "Geez, I wonder how many cubic feet per minute you need to run a blower to be effective for bees?" we received an email from a listener, Tom- I must mess up your last name, Tom, Tom Minoso, Tom M. [chuckles] He heard the question and he suggest a RYOBI 18-volt battery powered blower. He says it has a air speed up to 160 miles an hour and a three-speed variable trigger. He says it's the best blower for bees. Not that we sell RYOBI blowers, but just in case any other beekeepers are out there wondering what blower would be good. This is one Tom recommends. Thanks a lot, Tom, for listening and thanks for sending in an email.

Kim: The company does a good job. I've got a push lawnmower that runs on a battery and a weed trimer that runs on the same battery, and I think I'm going to look at this leaf blower.

Jeff: I'm definitely going to check it out. I did look at it online and it's reasonably priced at under $55. That's a couple bottles of bee robber or honey robbers. It might be worthwhile.

Kim: No smell.

Jeff: [chuckles] No smelly. You don't have to worry about your tracking that stuff into the house with your shoes. Hey, Kim, remember last January we had Dr. Marla Spivak on the episode- I think it was episode 33, talking about propolis?

Kim: Yes, she did a good job and she's always a good guest. I've known her since she's been at Minnesota and always enjoy working with her.

Jeff: Just like so many people, I just enjoy being in her presence. She's on a podcast or she has a story on a national podcast, it's WaitWhat's Meditative Story, and she talks about how she got started in bees. This was featured on the October 13th episode of WaitWhat's Meditative Story. The story's titled How the Bees Saved Me. It talks about her early days as a researcher in the Peruvian jungles and where she apparently got really sick and the bees helped her come through it. It's a personal beekeeping story. Set the calming music and of course Marla's narration. We'll have that also in our show in no time. I encourage our listeners to go check it out.

Kim: I haven't had a chance to listen to it, but it's next on my list.

Jeff: It's well worth it. Hey, Kim, we've been asking people to send this email in this last couple weeks. We have, in fact, the episode with Dara Scott from Hive Alive generated several emails.

Kim: I got one here from Blaine N and he writes, "I just finished listening to your episode in Hive Alive, and then I check some other sources about seaweed and the things that go with it, and found that some people aren't as impressed with the data as you were. The other places I checked said feeding bananas seems to have some dubious scientific support. What am I missing?" You want to hear what I wrote back?

Jeff: Yes, it sounds like he's missing a good meal, but go ahead.

Kim: [laughs] Blaine, I don't think you're missing anything. We try to, rather than promote the people, organizations, or products we discuss, our intent is to introduce our listeners to the sources of information that are out there. We invite discussions, even disagreements with our guests so that, like this, all or at least more sides are explored. When new management techniques or products are introduced, it is good that objective researchers offer opinions or research results to share, but without discussions from both sides, potential users would only have some of the information. Blaine, thanks for your inquiry and we'll take a look at some of that other research out there that disagrees with this and we'll see what we can find.

Jeff: It's a good discussion. Just on the opposite side of that coin and the same, the next day we received this email from Amanda. She doesn't provide a last name or her initial, but she writes this as she says, and I'm going to paraphrase this in part. She says, "I just want to say thank you, I very much enjoyed your episodes and particularly the scientists who come on." She writes about how her sheep feed on seaweed and uses it as a fruit tree spray and how she presses seaweed meal into the bee frames.

She writes the saying that the bees really seem to like it. She goes on to write that her bees are consistently healthier than anyone else's she knows. Amanda states that she's a naturopath with four years of clinical nutrition and a horticulturist with an advanced diploma in agronomy. She believes seaweed and microbes are part of a holistic management approach that are two very different, important elements in their vitality.

She writes that Dr. Dara is on spot in that all beekeepers should address nutrition and gut health as a priority and a base on which to build other aspects of bee health like immunity or Varroa treatment. Good health and good nutrition are two sides of the same coin, inseparable from each other. Science requires empirical approach, but nature delivers holistically. Looked at nature to heal nature. Amanda ends with, and this is my best part of the email, "You guys rock." [chuckles] Thanks, Amanda. It's interesting, two different viewpoints of the same topic.

Kim: I'll go back to Steve Repasky. He's got a phrase that beekeeping, there's a science and application to beekeeping and the science is pretty straightforward and the application moves around a little bit, but it moves around using the science that you're applying to it. This is the same thing, I think. It seems the seaweed stuff has got something going for it and I'm looking for it in the grocery store.

[chuckling]

Jeff: I think we'll find more and more as time goes on about what's available out in the world that is provides to be useful for beekeepers and people alike.

Kim: Thanks for the email, Amanda. We appreciate your comments and the fact that there's another side to this story.

Jeff: To Blaine too, because I appreciate people challenging what we have on the show. All the emails will help us improve the podcast, so thanks. Kim, what do you have coming up on Honey Bee Obscura with Jim Tew?

Kim: Well, we just did waxing and waning, which is the beekeeper's who reach a spot in their life where, "Do I want to keep doing this?" That was a little bit of soul searching there because neither Jim or I are spring chickens anymore, and some days that box gets heavier and heavier and heavier and you wonder if I should be doing this, but what we've got coming up is we're going to look again at winter prep.

What we're looking at here is some specifics on wrapping and winter protection and everything from wind box, windbreaks to Styrofoam sheets on the side, and everything in between. Then the next one a week after that, we took a good hard look at bottom boards. There's more there than you might imagine, and you can do things that will make your hive even better protected in the winter if you consider your bottom board part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Jeff: It's more than just a place to set your hive?

Kim: Yes, a lot more.

Jeff: I encourage anybody to take a look at the latest Honey Bee Obscura, the Honey Bee Obscura with waxing and waning and see if you can guess who that beekeeper is in the picture.

Kim: [laughs] I'll never tell.

Jeff: [chuckles] Kim, have you ever wished that you could just push a button or ask Siri to manage your bees? Today's guest and his company have developed the next best thing and completely automated or roboticized beekeeping management system. Saar Safra from Beewise will be here to talk about automated beekeeping.

Kim: I got to tell you, this waxing and waning thing, having a robot take care of my bees is really attractive, so I'm ready.

Jeff: You can have C-3PO to go out-

Kim: [laughs]

Jeff: -and harvest your honey. [chuckles] We're almost there. All right. Well, let's talk to Saar, but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.

[music]

Sponsor: Hello beekeepers. Your honey bees face a lot of challenges out there. Unbalanced food sources from monoculture crops, holding yards, drought, food shortages, antibiotics, pesticides, and pathogens like chalkbrood. To overcome these challenges, your bees need the multiple bacteria that are in all nectars, pollens, and the environment. These bacteria aid honey bees' digestion and improve your honey bees' response and resilience to pesticides. Now you can help improve your honey colony health with a quick, easy, and safe-to-use product. Strong Microbials' SuperDFM-HoneyBee uses naturally occurring bacteria to restore the healthy gut biome of your honey bees. Check them out today at www.strongmicrobials.com

Jeff: Hey, everybody, and while you're at the Strong Microbials site, make sure you go on and click on The Hive, their regular newsletter full of useful bee information and product updates. Hey, everybody, welcome back to Beekeeping Today Podcast. Sitting across the virtual table right now from us is Saar Safra from Beewise. Beewise is a brand new company that's providing beekeeping and pollination services. Saar, welcome to the Beekeeping Today Podcast. Looking forward to talking to you.

Saar Safra: Thank you.

Kim: It's nice to meet you, Saar. I've been reading a lot about your company, Beewise, and which you've got this automated house that you've got set up that takes care of itself in 24 colonies. Why don't you tell us a little bit of how you got into this and why and a little bit about the Beewise company?

Saar: Fantastic. First of all, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be on the show. I know your show is pretty adopted among the beekeepers' community so exciting to be here and I'm honored. Personally, I'm more of an entrepreneur, maybe even a serial entrepreneur. This is company number six for me. I had five previous iterations, none of which were related to bees. This time around, a few years back, I met a pretty amazing individual. His name is Elia, and Elia was a beekeeper and he still is, a commercial one, and he worked in a commercial operation of a few thousand hives.

He had this idea of a real-time intervention. He has this theory that our inability to intervene in real-time, think about intensive beekeeping but in real-time at every hive 24/7, but he didn't really know how to go about it. He had the idea, he had some creative ideas in his mind on how to build it or what to do, but when we met, we started putting a plan together on how to go about building not only a product but a company around it, so support systems, and customer service systems, and operational systems, and how do you build and manufacture and deliver.

There's a lot of layers to being able to eventually provide service. That was about four years ago and since then, we've founded Beewise and had this. Right now, we're at iteration number 18 of our solution. Iteration number 19 is coming out in the next 45 to 60 days and so we iterate all the time to provide a better solution and fine-tune it to perfect it to what beekeepers need.

Jeff: Oh, an agile approach.

Kim: Looking at your webpage and as I understand it, this is a single unit that holds a couple of dozen hives, and not hives per se, not boxes, but the equivalent of 24 hives that you can hitch up and put it wherever you want it, but inside, everything is automated. How does that work?

Jeff: Before you get into that, describe the unit itself so our listeners can visualize what your product is.

Saar: Visualize 24 hives or 24 colonies and hives and putting them 12 on each side of a big box. In the center, there's a corridor where the small robot, and don't think about Star Wars robotic, it's a pretty simple mechanical apparatus that slides on tracks and can monitor and inspect the hives from within. Our hives, they don't open up from the top, they opened up from within the device and so the robot can actually look inside every hive and inspect every single frame and identify at real time what is going on with that frame, and identify brood, and pollen, and honey, and nectar, and different disease that the bees have. It can identify Varroa if it finds any virotic or even inside the actual cells.

From an inspection standpoint, think of it as its as if every hive had there own beekeeper 24/7. The robot goes back and forth on the rail, goes up and down, and inspects all the hives all the time at any given time. Now, the inspection is pretty cool because think about how hives are being inspected today. You go to the field, put on your protective gear, some do, some don't, and then you open up the hatch of the entire hive and light comes in and cold air comes in and the pheromones go out.

It's a significant distraction for the bees. In our case, the whole device is darkened out. It's sealed so no light comes in, and the robot inspects every frame separately and it doesn't take out the bees. If it needs to take out a frame, it takes out the frames without the bees so that for the bees, for the colony, it's a non-event. The colony doesn't even know that something is going. Yes, one of the frames move, but the bees didn't leave the colony, the queen didn't leave the colony, and now they have a little bit of more room until the frame comes back in.

It takes the robot three minutes to take a frame and three minutes to put it back, so it's very slow, it's very gentle. The robot is very patient, it never goes on vacation, it doesn't get tired, it doesn't complain. That's the beauty of it, so you can do a very consistent method of beekeeping that is always the same at a very high level without worrying about costs or just the soft aspects of managing labor.

Jeff: We've talked to people on the show that have AZ hives and AZ huts. In some ways, this is like an AZ hive/hut with hives entrances to the outside of the container on either side. You said there's 12 colonies on each side, and the robot in between much like a tape storage unit like from a data processing standpoint. You have an old storage type tape server is how I'm visualizing.

Saar: You're absolutely right. If you step into our device, it looks like a bookstore, looks like all these books one next to each other, and then there's just a robotic system that goes and takes out a book and looks at that book from both sides, inspects the book. It takes it about three minutes to take it out and put it back in. Again, by design, and then we know everything, right? The robot, now there's another layer. That's the mechanical aspect of the solution. Now, there's another layer of artificial intelligence. Today, the way to implement artificial intelligence is to create neural networks. There's neural networks that are just sitting in the cloud and they get all this data.

They get the video feeds, and the images, and the temperature measurements, and the humidity measurements, and the sound measurements. All this data goes up to the cloud and there is a neural network that is able to convert all that data into meaningful data sets. When you look at a frame, you see how much brood there's there. You see if the brood is proper and if it's healthy. You see if there's holes in the brood, you can see how much pollen, how much honey, capped honey, and uncapped honey.

The artificial intelligence can see all that and can convert all that into data and can report back to you and tell you, "Kim, on frame 17 and hive 3, 71% is capped brood, 9% is uncapped brood. There's a little bit of pollen and it's all wrapped up with some capped honey." Now, you can actually know exactly what is going on on every frame in your 24 colonies at any given time throughout the year without having to visit your hive even once. You can be in Hawaii on vacation and manage your hives in California.

Again, I'll just add one more thing to that. That's the inspection component. Now, you can inspect and you know, and it's not inferred. You're not inferring that because of a certain sound or because of a certain temperature that something's going on. You actually see just like a beekeeper would do inspection with their own eyes. The neural network is actually much better than a beekeeper in the field because it doesn't have protective gear. It doesn't have all the bees around it. It's not sweaty because of heat or it's not cold.

It sees the perfect image, the resolution. The level of data, the level of resolution you get is incredible. Now the data is there. Now there's another layer. We showed the mechanical layer of obtaining the data. There's a softer layer of actually interpreting the data into actionable pieces of information that you can understand. Now there's another layer of another mechanical system that actually treats the bees per what we've learned from the data.

The robot can see, for example, or can understand that it's too hot. You're in Arizona, you're in California, or even in North Dakota, you get a heat wave and now you need to cool down the hive. Or, you're actually in North Dakota during the winter. You're overwintering our devices. You let it go down to, let's say, 40, 35, but you don't want to go even further down or maybe not even 35. The beekeeper can set the ranges they like. Now, there's actions that the device takes to provide a better environment for the bees.

Kim: The photo or the picture that your robot gets is able to tell the robot to what level-- For instance, could it spot and do something about a drone-laying queen?

Saar: Yes.

Kim: It would tell you that you have this many frames of drone brood. Would it know that it had a drone-laying queen, or would you have to interpret that?

Saar: No. The nice thing about our profession, beekeeping, is that it's been around for millennia. The know-how is already there. How would you know if there's a drone-laying queen, right? You'd count the drones. I mean, there's a method to that. It's very easy. It's the same method. Let's even take a little bit of a more difficult kind of situation to identify? What about supersedure cells versus queens cells?

Let's say you're in high season and you start seeing these swarm cells popping up. Same thing. The robot identifies them. They're very visible. They're very obvious. If the beekeeper says, "Hey, don't let my colonies swarm between April and July," whatever, there's a range you can set in our software. Then the robot will pop those queen cells. Just go in and there's a little popper.

We have zero queen cells. If you define this, we have 0% of queen cells during a certain period of time when you want it, because it's very easy to do. How do we do it without a robot? We drive over to the hives, two, three, four, five hours, we gear up, we take out every frame, we try and find those swarm cells, and we try to pop them with our finger, but nobody really does it because it's not scalable if you have 100 hives or 55.

If you've have 5,000 hives, it's a very expensive proposition taking your entire staff every week, every two weeks, every three weeks to try and prevent swarming from happening. It's very expensive so we let them happen again. Some swarming happens, right? The robot can take care of that. It's very easy. Now, mind you guys, that all these actions are not happening in an autonomous fashion. What happens is we send the beekeeper notifications.

If you're a beekeeper and you're using our system, you would get a notification on your cell phone. It says, "Hey, hive 17 and colony 7, device 3, there's 2 swarm cells." Then, you can actually go in and look at those pictures just as if you were in the field. You see the same exact frame as if you were on the field, you identify, and you can decide. You can say, "You know what? This queen sucks, so let's just get a new queen." Or, "It's not really a swarm cell, it's a supersedure cell. I want this cell." You can decide, or you can say, "Hey, get rid of swarm cells." It's one check box, and the robot goes in and sweeps the 24 colonies.

Jeff: You're looking at photographs and also between the beekeeper who can review photographs and the neural network who is making that decision as well, is that all visible light? Are you looking at UV light? Are you looking at different kinds of light to make this distinction?

Saar: Yes. Different light waves, for sure. Different kinds of light waves. There's some things that are patented that I can't talk about. Some things are not patented, they're just part of our know-how that I can really go into detail, but there are different light waves that we use to identify the different things, but also to kind of do different layers of imaging.

You don't always identify things with just one layer. You have to add two, three, four layers. Sometimes, we even had more than 10 layers to actually get to the right conclusion and make sure we provide our beekeepers the best recommendations. As a beekeeper, you eventually get, "Hey, there's a 95% chance this is a swarm cell," but you can still go in and make your own decision and carry out your own beekeeping with your own philosophy. We just give you the data and a set of recommendations, or at least conclusions based on the data points that we have.

Kim: Amazing [chuckles]. What are the other things that it says on your webpages that you can harvest honey and extract it and put it into a container, and then it will tell you when the container is full and come and get it? How do you manage that?

Saar: Kim, I'll answer your question, but I want to expand on it really for two minutes, if you don't mind, because I think there's another angle there. Extracting honey is pretty straightforward. There's an extractor, there's a small centrifuge inside the device and a container. The robot takes frames that are full of honey. You can tell the robot as a beekeeper, "Harvest these frames. Take frame 1 from hive number 3, take frame 17 from hive number 4 and extract them."

The robot will go in and take out that frame, just like you would take out a book from a bookshelf, and will put it in the centrifuge. Our extractor can harvest eight frames at a time. It takes about 15 to 17 minutes to extract these frames. Then, the robot takes those same frames and puts them back to work. Harvesting is relatively simple and our harvester is the same one you would see in other places. It's a pretty simple, straightforward mechanism, just like you would see in the centralized facilities, but it doesn't carry 200 frames, it carries 8.

The honey just pours down into a container. We know we have a measurable little apparatus that measures how much the container is full. When it's 80% full, you get a notification, "Come and empty your container." It can carry about 800 pounds of honey right now. Not too much, but enough to give you a few weeks of honey collection. I will expand and say, the nice thing is that when you can do this, you can start thinking about continuous harvesting.

Again, think about commercial beekeeping, where you harvest your honey at the end of the season, maybe twice a season at best, because it's a very expensive proposition. You have to go and take all the frames, drive them back to centralized facility, have a whole facility with a whole team of people. It's just a significant undertaking. Well, when the robot does it frame by frame, you literally harvest a single frame. We saw even eight times a season that same frame. It fills up two days later, you'll harvest it again, fills up and put it back to work, fills up, another.

Now, we don't have supers. You don't need to have eight supers on every hive to capture as much honey as you can during the season. You literally capture every drop of honey and you harvest it real time, but you can do it on a 30-frame colony, 20-frame colony. Let's say your nest is 10, 15 colonies and we've seen brood frame, brood nest of 15 frames, but then the other 5, 10 frames, they fill up honey, you just harvest them and so the bees always have room to fill up new frames.

My point is everything is much more dynamic. For example, when a colony wants to grow, it doesn't have to grow by 10 frames because you put up a super. You can add two, three frames at a time for the bees. It's much easier for the bees to absorb two, three frames, build them out, and start filling them up with brood, larva, honey, whatever rather than what you put 10 frames and then they start building all 10 out.

It's a much more expensive undertaking for the bees. Again, we're talking about money. Commercial beekeeping is not about just growing the bees because of the love of it. It's how do you make your machine, your business, more efficient and effective? Everything here is much more natural for the bees. They build them out one, two frames at a time, you harvest one frame at a time, put it back. It just works in a much more fluid manner, if I can use that term.

Jeff: Interesting. The frames, I imagine they are not really Langstroth hive frames. They're a modified frame specific for the bee house, right, your unit? Is that correct? Do you start them out on a foundation? Is it all full-plastic frame?

Saar: The bee home carries standard deep Langstroth frames. The population is you take your old frames from your old hives, the plastic frames you used too and you just move them to our device.

Jeff: Interesting.

Saar: We wrap them up with our interface. Our interface is like a book closes on the frame, and it doesn't touch the actual foundation. It just goes around the plastic frame of the frame, if you will. This is how a robot interacts with this new frame, but the center of the frame, the whole foundation and the buildout is the same exact way. When you want to migrate and populate our device, you literally take your colonies from your old hives. It takes you about two hours to populate our entire device. You moved all your colonies to our device in a very simplified streamline manner. You don't have to grow the colonies from scratch in our device.

Jeff: That's very cool.

[music]

Sponsor: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Beekeeping Today Podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities including this podcast better, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at betterbee.com.

[music]

Jeff: You might have stated this earlier. Who is your target customer for your product? It's not the hobbyist beekeeper, but is it the sideliner beekeeper? Is it a commercial beekeeper? If so, what is the number of hives that you expect a beekeeper to have and to make the most of this?

Saar: From a product standpoint anybody who has 24 highs can start using it, a dozen frame. From a value proposition standpoint, the larger your operation, the more difficulties you have managing it in a cost effective manner. Once you start dealing with 30, 40, 20 employees, again like I said, the soft aspects of managing labor becomes very expensive. People go on vacation, they quit, they leave, they go to your competitor, you have to get new people. Exactly when it's high season, there's nobody around.

The value prop that we provide is incredible when you're dealing with larger operations because now, suddenly, your labor sits behind a desk and makes decision work. We're splitting the expertise of the beekeepers, the know-how, the brain from the actual manual mundane labor that carries out the task. It doesn't add much value if there's a person harvesting a frame, or a robot. It doesn't add much value if there's a person looking with their eyes or a camera looking. The physical aspect of carrying out beekeeping might be fun. You might enjoy it, but it doesn't add a ton of value.

What adds value is the expertise of the mind of the person who's carrying out that beekeeping. That person, she or he can sit behind a desk and make the same decisions. Only, they can make much smarter decisions when they do precision beekeeping. They can actually a decision per frame. You can't really do this in the field. It doesn't work that way. In an office, you actually can. You can optimize your entire 24 colonies. You can start doing incredible things and making decision because the cost is very low. It takes you minutes, seconds.

Back to your question about who is it intended for, being a four-year-old company and a relatively young brand in the market, we have to focus our efforts and try and first find those customers that we provide the most value for and then go downstream to those that still can get value but it's not as, I would say, wide and robust as the biggest beekeepers. We are actually targeting the biggest commercial operations, 20,000, 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 hives, 10,000 hives. We will go down the scale of operations, but first we have to make sure that this is where we spend our efforts in the next couple of years for sure.

Kim: I'm going to bet that with the data that you have in the work that you've done, you can approach one of these people and say these 24 hives are going to be- in terms of efficiency, labor costs, increased honey production, all of the things that you've incorporated into your system, these 24 hives are going to be as or nearly as productive as some number of hives that you have out in the field that you have to do one at a time with lots and lots of labor and mistakes and transportation time and all of these things. Do you have a feel for that number?

Saar: Absolutely. There's a few numbers, or let's call them KPIs, that we measure that we can report on. First and foremost, by being able to apply treatment in real time for the bees, you don't get as many losses. You don't get much loss like you get in the field because, again, if there's Varroa, we know about it in real time and we treat it in real time. If there's a disease, if it's too cold or too warm, if there's pesticides in the fields, we know about these things in real time. There's sensors on the device and you can actually sense and know that something's going on.

You see we have entrances for the bees to come in and out for every colony on the box. Those entrances shut down and open up automatically by the robot. For example, when you're mobilizing your device, you don't have to come a night to before and wrap up all your hives or whatnot. You can just, at a click of a button from your office at 9:00 PM or 10:00 PM, you can shut down the whole device. Now, it's shut down. All the entrances are shut down and now you can transport it whenever you like.

Why am I giving this example? Because I'm trying to tell you that the first metric we're measuring is how do our losses look compared to the industry benchmark? Let's call it that. The industry benchmark is a very high number, above 35, 40. Some report even higher numbers. It's astonishing to me, it's such a bad situation. We don't see losses over years. We've operated these devices for three years now at scale, over thousands of colonies. Our average is less than 10%, and that includes summer losses and winter losses. We don't have a lot of overwintering losses. We don't have situations where there's famine because you can feed the bees and you can see your colonies go down to very low level.

Now, it costs you money. You have to feed the bees. You have to actually provide the feed, the honey, the syrup, and the patties, but they're in the device. They have special compartments. Now, the robot could take a patty and shove it inside the hive. We have feeder frames. Just like the regular frames, one of the frames is the feeder frame. Every colony has a feeder frame there, and the robot can fill it up with honey syrup. Now, if your honey syrup container goes down-- not honey syrup, your syrup container goes down and it's getting close to empty, 20%, we notify you.

Now, you go and fill up syrup in your devices, or water. Now, your whole operation becomes different because, like I told you, let's say you have 30 employees, you're a large operation, let's say 20,000, 30,000 hives, now you don't have to guess where the bees need food or whatnot. You know that device 17, device 34, device 55, and device 91 needs sugar, or syrup filling, or water filling.

You have an app on your phone, and it tells you what's your route, and you go and you take a syrup truck, and just fill them up with syrup. Your whole operation becomes different, more efficient, more effective, and much more data-driven. That's the important part. Every decision you make is based on data, actionable data that you can interpret and take action on versus going to the-- Right now when they go to the field, you don't really know what you're going to find.

Remember, you bring the whole factory with you on your truck. There's everything on the truck. There's new colonies and new queens and food and whatever because if you already made the trip to the field, you want to make sure that you can treat everything and anything. Well, when it's a data-driven business, you don't need to take all that with you, you know you're going to fill up syrup, that's what you're doing today. Tomorrow, there's a different truck that goes and collects all the honey or honey from the devices that need to collect the honey. It's a different way of doing it.

Kim: Certainly far more efficient than hoping you've guessed right today when you leave. [laughs]

Jeff: This is not pie in the sky. You actually have units in the field working today, right, across North America?

Saar: We do, yes.

Jeff: How many units do you have in operation?

Saar: There's a couple of dozen, not all have been delivered. Again, look, I want to put things in perspective. We're a small, young company. We're starting out, we have a little over 100 devices scattered in the fields overall. Only a couple of dozen are in California, and not all have been delivered. Some have been delivered, some are in the process of getting ready to be delivered. Some devices miss some features, so for example, the harvest system, not everybody has them yet. They will. This is how we operate. We're a product company, so we don't mind putting devices in the field, not with all the features, we will add features as we go.

Jeff: As I mentioned before, it's a very agile approach to the product release.

Saar: That's exactly right.

Jeff: That is making it a viable, important product that's real. Someone can come out and touch it, and feel it, and see it in operation. It may not be complete, but it's actually working, and not just a PowerPoint presentation.

Saar: Yes.

Jeff: Very cool.

Kim: Very cool. Just doing some number crunching, I can see that having many of these in an operation would save you suddenly many employees. It's going to replace a chunk of the people that you would need to do this kind of work. Not only that, you don't have to train them and you don't have to worry about taxes. [chuckles] There's a whole lot of things you don't have to worry about anymore.

Saar: Kim, it's funny what you say because that was actually one of my concerns, initially. I was like, "Are we going to replace people?" That's not always the best proposition, but it's funny because when we go to the commercial guys, they're always understaffed. They're always understaffed with quality people, they're always understaffed with trained people. [chuckles] One of these guys has actually told me how he goes around.

After his beekeepers do the work, he goes around and does the rounds to make sure that the work was actually done to the level of quality that he would want it. He always undoes what they did or has to fix some stuff, because it's hard to get your hands on quality beekeepers and keep them around for a period of time so that there's consistency, and quality, and service.

Again, when you deal with manual labor, that's a problem. We're not really replacing hands, we're actually filling up those hands that are missing. If you do have quality beekeepers, keep them on board, don't let them go. Make sure they're the ones making the decisions and carrying out your beekeeping to the level that you require, but they can do much more. The other thing is, what our customers are thinking about is how do they expand their operation.

You don't want to really get rid of people. Now you're thinking, "Okay, I have the labor, I have trained quality labor." That's fantastic because getting your hands on more colonies is a relatively simple logistical task, buy more colonies, but it's the management of those colonies, and how do they generate revenue, and how do you deal with it, that's the hard part. If you can throw them in devices and get them going, well, now it's a whole different story.

Kim: That's a much better way of looking at it. I like that a lot, and it makes much more sense. What have we missed on this? What's the point that you want to make sure people get?

Saar: Again, I want to make sure that we're talking to beekeepers and beekeepers are listening in, but we should never forget that part of this is we're talking about bees. Now, the bee is our customer. They're not a paying customer, they're our user. We literally designed this device with the bee being in the center. What happens is, the old device, the wooden box, the 150-year-old wooden box was designed in 1850 for their needs back then.

Well, the needs changed, the market evolved. Demand has gone up significantly for pollination services and for honey, but the underlying infrastructure, the technology, the way we do beekeeping, not only has it changed, we're actually losing the colonies. Supply is going down. In the US, there were five million colonies only 40 years ago. Today, we have less than three. Supply is going down, and we see that with pollination prices and all that.

We should never forget, if you really want to succeed in building a device that grows bees and keeps bees, the bee has to be in the center, and this is how we built everything. When you have the luxury of redesigning the technology, you can literally solve a lot of problems that were inherently unsolvable with the old device. You can't put cameras in the old device, in the wooden box. You can't put robotics. You're really limited in what you can do. That's one thing.

Based on that, when I said we have less than 10% colony loss throughout a year at scale, what I'm really talking about is we're saving the bees. We say colony losses, it means lost revenue, but in the real world, outside of the beekeeper world, what that means is, on this planet, we are literally losing the bees by the millions every month. You guys know these and you know the numbers better than I do. For us, the first and foremost, we build a technology that can actually save bees at scale.

Again, the actual number for us is 7.59, the average of how many losses we have, and that's a KPI for us to improve on every iteration. Every iteration, we need to see that number go down and down. This includes Varroa and all that. Our devices are in Israel and the US. It's not that they're in Australia where Varroa doesn't exist. We are actually in the hardcore markets where we see these losses cross the 40% line, and we're trying to solve for that. If we can solve for that, then we create real value to the commercial beekeepers because they're using the bees at commercial scale, and we solve the bee collapse problem that is an issue that people care about, I care about and many, many people care about that.

Kim: Well, it looks like, from everything I've heard here, you've gone a long way to do to accomplish all of those things, so it's very impressive. I'll take two, how's that?

[laughter]

Kim: Saar, this has been great and we wish your operation the best. I don't think you need good luck, you've got it handled. I expect to see several of those things in my backyard in the next year or two. [chuckles]

Saar: Anybody that doesn't think they need luck, they need a quick lesson of humility.

Kim: Well, there we are.

Saar: We're trying to change the world and so we need a lot of luck. Thank you for the kind words and for the opportunity to be here and educate you a little bit more about our service.

Jeff: This is really exciting technology. We've often joked. I've often joked about beekeeping as an industry that hasn't really changed since 1850, and so this is the first real change I've seen since I've been a beekeeper in the four years of doing the Beekeeping Today Podcast. It's really, really innovative and holds a lot of promise, so I look forward to hearing great things from Beewise and to having you back at a future date to give us an update on a regular basis. Maybe next time, we can have you and a beekeeper who's using one of your bee homes on the show at the same time.

Saar: It was my pleasure. Thank you, gentlemen.

Kim: Thanks, Saar.

[music]

Jeff: You know, Kim, if I could combine my IT background and beekeeping, I'd go work for those guys today.

Kim: [chuckles] I don't blame you. I'm glad I was sitting down during this, because it's pretty incredible what these guys have accomplished. I've spent some time on their webpage looking, and there's not a lot of pictures, but looking at their pictures and one of the things that he said or you said is that beekeeping hasn't changed in 150 years until now, it's changed. This is way different.

Jeff: Yes, there's a whole lot of questions I wanted to ask but there's so little time. From an operational standpoint, in terms of he says the robot extracts the frame and they can take pictures and everything without the bee side. My first question was, how do they sweep the bees off that frame without killing them, and then put them back in without killing them?

Kim: That occurred to me early on and I didn't get back to it, but you're right, we'll have to see if we can have him explain that a little bit.

Jeff: Then just maintenance of the box is an interesting puzzle too, because I just spent this last weekend just extracting the last of my honey, the summer crop. Anybody who extracts honey knows that becomes a mess no matter how careful you are. I'm imagining this bee hut, and they're extracting eight frames of honey in this enclosed container. How often do you have to clean out the inside of that container?

Kim: There you go, good question.

Jeff: The other question was, is it self-contained power? How much power does it take to operate this?

Kim: It's solar powered. Take a look, there's panels on the roof, so I imagine they have some battery backup.

Jeff: Interesting, and then of course you have to have wireless or you have to have some sort of internet connection. I don't know, so many questions, so I look forward having Saar back and Beewise back. You know, it really introduces some changes for the commercial beekeeper.

Kim: Yes, it is, a lot of changes. Okay. Anything else, Jeff?

Jeff: No, I think we're off to the future.

[laughter]

Jeff: That about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts, wherever you download or stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find us quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any webpage.

As always we thank Bee Culture, the magazine for American beekeeping, for their continuous support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor, Global Patties. Check them out at www.globalpatties.com. We also want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of this podcast. Check out their probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com, and we want to thank Betterbee. Check out all of their great beekeeping supplies at www.betterbee.com. Finally, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcastlistener, for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions and comments and questions at beekeepingtodaypodcast.com. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else, Kim?

Kim: I think that about wraps it up, Jeff.

Jeff: All right. I think I'm going to go find my book on robotics and get it up to speed.

Kim: [chuckles] All right, we'll catch you next time.

Jeff: All right. Thanks a lot, everybody.

[00:53:50] [END OF AUDIO]

Saar Safra

CEO

Saar Safra, CEO & Co-Founder at Beewise, is a seasoned entrepreneur. He started his career as a software developer; in 2001 he became CTO of Ad4Ever which was acquired by aQuantive where he served as GM & VP of Rich Media.

In 2007 aQuantive was acquired by Microsoft, where Saar served as Director of Rich Media solutions until 2008, when he left and founded ActiveBuilding; the company was then acquired by RealPage in 2013. Saar has had three successful exits from the five companies he founded prior to Beewise.

Saar received his MBA from the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington.