Shared from the 2/20/2024 Houston Chronicle eEdition

All the buzz about honeybee effort

HPE, local nonprofit use AI to manage hives at Spring campus

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Photos by Melissa Phillip/Staff photographer

Troy Yard, left, and Mike Bussman, with Hives for Heroes, tend to the bees at the Hewlett Packard Enterprise campus in Spring. HPE is using its AI and cloud-based technology to collect data on the beehives at its offices.

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Dan Kortenhoeven, technology evangelist, talks about the computer vision AI that counts the bees. He said HPE hopes to contribute this data to support research on bees.

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Photos by Melissa Phillip/Staff Photographer

Troy Yard, left, and Mike Bussman tend to the bees in Spring. There are four hives of 50,000 to 60,000 bees each on HPE’s second-story terrace.

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Computing engineers at Hewlett Packard Enterprise in Spring use AI and cloud-based technology to collect data on the beehives.

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Chad Smykay, AI CTO for digital solutions, talks about the data in the Customer Innovation Center.

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The bees in 2023 produced about 150 pounds of honey.

There are 3,000 workers at Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s campus in Spring working on technology solutions, including cloud-based and artificial intelligence capabilities.

And there are four hives of 50,000 to 60,000 bees each on HPE’s second-story terrace.

There, four queens reign, named by employee vote: Missy, Whitney, Aretha and Beyoncé for the music legends. (Queens Cher and Latifah died. Queens Taylor and a second Latifah are expected to arrive with two more hives this year.)

The hives arrived in November 2022 after HPE’s Customer Innovation Center manager, Amanda Peña, asked leadership if the company could work with the corporate campus program of Houston-based nonprofit Hives for Heroes, where veterans keep beehives to facilitate a healthy transition from service. Peña’s husband, Mario, a former infantryman in the Marine Corps, had a difficult transition out of the military.

“I thought if we could have something like this, if he could have had something like this, it would have made his transition easier,” Peña said. “Not only did I see it as something where we could help a veteran in the community, but help our immediate environment overall. Pollinators are on the decline.”

The program took off, beginning with six hives. Veterans with Hives for Heroes take the lead on keeping the bees, and employees can safely visit the bees to be “beekeeper for a day.” The bees in 2023 produced about 150 pounds of honey, which was given to local nonprofits.

But when the queens of two hives died during cold weather last year, Peña said she realized HPE could use its technology to safeguard the hives’ health. HPE now has four sensor- and camera-equipped hives that produce data as well as honey. HPE works with honeybee experts and Hives for Heroes to learn more about bees and how best to ensure their survival.

HPE installed sensors by bee technology firm Broodminder to monitor factors such as humidity, temperature and weight so hives are at optimal levels, Peña said.

Some of the sensors’ locations were determined by trial and error, HPE technology evangelist Dan Kortenhoeven said. HPE employees realized that a sensor on the top, bottom and sides of the hive box would produce inaccurate swings in temperatures because bees huddle more toward the hive’s middle during the winter to keep their young warm.

The data could be used to develop predictive models for hive health, said Chad Smykay, AI CTO for digital solutions at HPE.

Cloud-based technology houses all data, stored on humming servers in a colorful garage at HPE’s Customer Innovation Center. HPE hopes to contribute this data to support research on bees, Kortenhoeven said.

“The idea is that when we have a health issue with our bees, we can go back to the data from the last six months and say, ‘What was unique about that data for this hive that wasn’t unique to the other hives?’ And that may indicate something was going awry with the hive before we even knew it, and then we can pick up on that and prevent it in the future,” Kortenhoeven said. It also can help determine why some hives perform better than others.

HPE plans on more data collecting, such as with acoustic sensors to monitor queens because queens sound different than the rest of the hive.

This can help the company predict, for example, a case of multiple queens. Worker bees may choose and raise one bee to be a queen, Peña said, but sometimes more than one queen can emerge. The queens will either battle it out (resulting in the loser’s death) or split off to form new hives. But they’ve had instances where there are six queen cells, Peña said, and when that happens the first queen to emerge gathers other bees to kill the other five queens.

With data, HPE and Hives for Heroes may be able to predict when that happens and move bees around accordingly, Smykay said.

Veteran Troy Yard works with the bees at local corporate campuses for Hives For Heroes and helps employees in the “beekeeper for a day” program suit up and visit the hives safely. Yard said humans could learn from honey bees.

“The interconnectivity of them all working together is also fascinating,” Yard said. “Coming from the military after 30 years, that’s our whole lives. It’s working together, helping one another out.”

And there’s much to learn from the work ethic of a bee. A bee will work her entire life — approximately 60 days — traveling more distance than the earth’s circumference to make a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey for those that come after her, Yard said.

“That’s how we should be as we travel the circumference of this earth as many times as we can for those that come after us, helping others,” Yard said.

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