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ApisProtect uses unique sensor technology to monitor honey bees to ensure global food supply

By Sara Isenberg
Founder, Publisher, Editor-in-Chief, Santa Cruz Tech Beat

September 22, 2020 – Salinas, CA and Ireland

ApisProtect’s new beekeeping technology combines the sensor data on hive conditions, strength and activity levels with its proprietary big data and machine learning techniques

I received a cool tip recently from Dennis Donohue, Director at Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology (WGCIT). One of their resident agtech startups, ApisProtect from Ireland, has a fascinating (to me, anyway) project that combines tech and beekeeping. Not surprisingly, one of their key target markets is the pollination industry in the U.S.

What is apiary management software and how can technology help beekeepers be more successful solving problems that are plaguing bees colonies worldwide? Read our Q&A with ApisProtect’s CEO and Co-Founder, Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy.

[Editor’s note: ApisProtect will present a webinar “More than Honey: The Agricultural Importance and Future of Bees”  on Tuesday, September 29, 2020. Register here. CNN recently published an article about ApisProtect (9/18/20). Plus, watch the videos we’re including at the end of this article.]

Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy, CEO of ApisProtect. (Credit: Jill Cotter)

Santa Cruz Tech Beat (SCTB): Tell us about your company.

Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy (FEM): ApisProtect is an Irish Agtech company that uses unique sensor technology to monitor honey bees to ensure global food supply.

A host of problems, diseases, and pests are devastating hive populations around the globe. It’s becoming harder and harder every year for beekeepers to manage the variety of problems their bees are experiencing.

In many countries, up to 50% of our honey bees are dying every year, in some parts of the U.S beekeepers lost up to 40% of their colonies in 2018/2019, the highest in 13 years.  

By providing beekeepers with apiary management software and insights into what is happening in the hive, ApisProtect can help beekeepers reduce losses and improve the health of honey bees worldwide.

By providing timely and accurate information about each colony in each apiary, beekeepers can spend their time on value-added activities such as splitting and growing strong colonies rather than routinely inspecting all colonies.

For operators with thousands of hives, manual spot inspections can lead to problems within colonies being missed and consume large amounts of time. Using the ApisMonitor units, beekeepers can direct their attention to the hives that need it.

“It’s becoming harder and harder every year for beekeepers to manage the variety of problems their bees are experiencing. By providing beekeepers with insights into what is happening in the hive, we can help beekeepers reduce losses and improve the health of honey bees worldwide.” — Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy

Contributing €153 billion worth of pollination to the agri-food industry annually, honey bees play an essential role in global food production. One-third of all food that we eat depends on pollinators, and there are 91 million managed beehives worldwide. 

SCTB: What’s the story behind you starting ApisProtect?

FEM: Following a radio interview during my PhD, I received phone calls from beekeepers in Ireland and all around the world asking when the technology I had developed would be available to beekeepers. This inspired me to establish ApisProtect with my co-founders in 2017. We received seed funding of $1.8m in 2018. ApisProtect now employs 10 people with high-level skills which include PhDs and Masters-level qualifications in engineering, data science, biology and marketing.

“Our mission at ApisProtect is to save the honey bees because, if we don’t take action now, we’ll lose our most important insect ally. We want to secure the supply of one third of our diet, and make sure we can nourish and feed the 9.7 billion people on planet Earth by 2050.” — Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy

SCTB: What technology is involved?

FEM: ApisProtect’s new beekeeping technology combines the sensor data on hive conditions, strength and activity levels with its proprietary big data and machine learning techniques.

ApisProtect does not require beekeepers to learn new skills or take on additional tasks. Through machine-learning technology, beekeepers will gain valuable information about their hives. For example, instead of expecting beekeepers to look through multiple graphs of temperature data (which they can if they so wish), alerts will be sent highlighting which hives in which apiaries need to be inspected.

This allows beekeepers to use their beekeeping skills and knowledge in a much more effective manner. A high-level overview of each apiary will be provided to beekeepers with a breakdown of which hives are doing well, which ones are likely to experience problems, and which hives currently need immediate attention, providing a 24/7 early warning system.  

One of our key target markets for this technology is the pollination industry in the U.S. We have just launched our commercial product in the U.S and are working with commercial beekeepers to reduce losses and increase productivity.  This technology will enable beekeepers to practice precision beekeeping which will transform the commercial beekeeping  industry.” — Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy

SCTB: How did you connect with WGCIT in Salinas all the way from Ireland?

FEM: As Salinas is known as the salad bowl of the world, it is important for ApisProtect to have an office there to meet with commercial beekeepers and growers. We established an office at WGCIT in 2018.

We work closely with Dennis Donohue, Director of Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology and his team to build our network and to build relationships with beekeepers in California.

We will be presenting at an upcoming webinar at the WGCIT “More than Honey: The Agricultural Importance and Future of Bees”  on Tuesday, September 29. Register here.

SCTB: Can you tell us more about your funding?

FEM: In 2018, ApisProtect secured a $1.8 million seed round of financing led by top-tier international venture capital investors Finistere Ventures and Atlantic Bridge CapitalRadicle Growth, the Yield Lab and Enterprise Ireland also participated in the investment round.

SCTB: Impressive!

Watch this video to learn more about ApisProtect and Dr. Edwards Murphy’s vision for future full of healthy honey bee hives:

Listen to Dr. Edwards Murphy explain the benefits of their technology:

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