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Montana company uses new technology to help beekeepers

Posted: 12:08 PM, May 09, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-09 14:08:33-04

MISSOULA – A new app that should help beekeepers worldwide is on its way.

The app, which is being developed by a Missoula company, has interesting roots.

The app stems from a decade-old Department of Defense idea to use bees to find landmines, according to University of Montana Professor David Firth.

Firth is part of a team from UM that formed the company, Bee Alert Technology. They successfully trained bees to do just that.

The idea is that US military camps around the world would have their own colony on hand. The question then became how would soldiers know if the bees were healthy? The idea for the app known as Bee Health Guru was born.

“Originally the Bee Health Guru was designed to help soldiers who had never kept bees to be able to keep healthy bees,” Firth explained. “And then we realized there’s hundreds of thousands of beekeepers around the world who can use a smartphone app to help them keep healthy bees.”

It was the beginning of a five-year process that included tedious work such as recording a large number of sounds — undetectable to almost anyone outside of a very experienced beekeeper.

“We thought that if the bees had something different wrong with them, or if they had health issues, that they would make a very specific sound,” Firth told MTN News. “A colony that is queenless, a colony that has Varroa Mite, a colony that has American Foulbrood — they all sound different. So we collected the sound of those unhealthy bees and we put it inside our smartphone app.”

The entire collection of sonic buzzing has been captured in the phone’s artificial intelligence database and can be used by even the most novice beekeeper — including Firth, who started beekeeping just last summer.

“We had one of the colonies here that has something called American Foulbrood that is really difficult for a new beekeeper to detect,” Firth said. “And I was able to put the smartphone in the 18 different beehives here and I could tell exactly which one had American Foulbrood.”

The Bee Health Guru is expected to assist beekeepers in quickly identifying health problems, and take the necessary steps to maintain strong colonies.

Click here to learn how you can help Bee Health Guru ahead of its expected May 30, 2019 launch date.

-Reported by Russ Thomas/MTN News