University of Washington designs 'backpack' for bees to help local farmers

The "backpack" is  small enough to be latched onto the back of a bumblebee. (Credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington)

SEATTLE (KOMO) — A team of engineers at the University of Washington have found a new way to collect data using bumblebees.

UW’s School of Computer Science & Engineering is the first to create a sensing system - complete with wireless communication and location tracking - that fits on the back of a bumblebee.

Researcher Vikram Iyer says they chose bumblebees because they can fly much longer than drones.

"In this work, we leverage nature's flying machines to carry wireless sensors we can use for things like smart farming," Iyer said.

The tiny backpack sensors can collect data on crops like temperatures, humidity and overall health. They also collect data on their own locations.

"At the same time, we broadcast radio signals to tiny circuits on the bees to track where they're going in a 2-D space," Iyer said.

He adds that bumblebees return to a hive each night, so data from their sensors can be uploaded and their tiny batteries recharged.

The team will present their research at the 25th Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking next year.

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