I designed an outdoor exhibit to inform and educate the urban population while collecting data about the 4000 native bee species in North America to estimate the level of their endangerment.
I began researching about the 'colony collapse disorder', that led to discovering the existence of native bee species, which most of us are unaware of. There are 4000 native bee species with very little information available for majority of those, and are believed to be threatened or endangered.
It is vital to try to save them as they provide an invaluable service of pollination that helps maintain the biodiversity of our ecosystem.
Pollination is an essential process in our ecosystem; it helps 70% of the flowering plants transform into a vegetable or fruit.
But why do we need to discuss that? Well, there has been a massive decline in the population of bees in the recent years and they are the largest contributors to the pollination process throughout the world. In the wild, bees provide this service for free and have for thousands of years. Although, they are now heavily commercialized for the purpose of pollination as we have moved to industrial farming methods. They are also utilized for harvesting their honey and wax.
A few of the crops pollinated by bees include tomatoes, oranges, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, apples, celery, broccoli, watermelons, cauliflower, pumpkin, squash, and strawberries. Now imagine life without these, what would you eat? If you say meat then just like humans many animals that we consume are dependent on the fruits and vegetables pollinated by bees.
In short, if there are no bees, there is no 'us'. Click on the button below to read more details in my research paper, or scroll down to see the process of my solution.
Identifying the Problem:
In 2006, a phenomenon called the 'Colony Collapse Disorder' was originated to explain the mystery of worker bees abandoning their colonies, leaving behind the queen and the eggs in the hive.
Domesticated honeybees have contributed to the agricultural economy by $29 billion through pollination, and more through honey and wax. The impact to this due to colony collapse disorder indicates a major problem is coming our way.
Monoculture, or as we know industrial farming, has converted diverse forest lands to cultivate single species of crops over a season. This resulted in less food available for the bees through the year to sustain their hive.
To maintain high yields there is a heavy use of pesticides through these farms. The chemicals used in these pesticides kill the pests and save the crops but they also affect the pollinators interacting with the crops. In 1994, when France experienced a similar scenario, they immediately banned the use of pesticides to save the precious pollinators
I began developing a design intervention as a response to tackle the ill effects of the decline (and possibly extinction) of the honeybees. Since pollination is a vital process, we need it to continue to produce food and meet the rising demand over the supply.
So, should we focus on alternate methods of pollination for the future?
My aim was to create a drone to carry out the pollination process by imitating the bees behavior. The major challenge was for the drone to fly for a longer time so as to pollinate a larger area without recharging.
The engine prototype for the drone was inspired by the solar Mendochino motor and consisted of 3 parts:
1. Solar Cells
2. Neodymium Magnets
3. Copper Wire
The sunlight captured by the solar cells would be converted to electricity and transferred to the copper coil within making it electromagnetic. The magnets then cause the electromagnetic copper coil to spin. Sources have recorded a Mendochino motor to produce 1000+ RPM under good sunlight.
Design Limitations & Learning's:
The limitations of the prototype were:
1. It managed to obtain rotation but not enough to fly,
2. The materials required for the engine are very heavy,
3. A machine of this form will be unable to conduct pollination with the delicacy with which the bees do.
After validating the design and the concept with scientists and beekeepers, we concluded that, "although it is essential to prepare for the future where alternate methods may be required, we have to strive to protect and conserve the bees today".
An important fact that came to light in the discussion with subject matter experts was that there are 4,000 species of native bees in North America and they are largely classified as solitary.
Non-native social bees are honeybees (social meaning they live as a colony in hives). They came over to North America with colonists about 400 years ago. Since they are generalist foragers, they were able to adapt to the new land fairly well. Native social bees are bumble bees which live in colonies but do not build hives. They build nests which are underground in soil. Remaining of the 4,000 species are solitary native bees. Solitary means they live alone, collect honey and nectar as per their requirements and build their own nest to lay eggs.
These native solitary bees can be found all over North America, even pollinating regions with extreme climates like Alaska. What makes these bees so important to the region is that they pollinate native plants. The native biodiversity is balanced by the pollination efforts of these bees.
Note: Generalist is a classification that indicates those bees that gather nectar and pollen from any available flower in their vicinity. On the other hand, most native bees are specialists, which means they gather nectar and pollen from specific flowers and hence their life-cycle has evolved to adapt to the blooming seasons of those flowers.
Solitary native bees are so diverse in form and size that when a general survey conducted by New York Times to identify the bees in an image with 9 insects, only 30% were able to point to the right answer. The same can be seen in Fig. 5 below.
The same survey when conducted along with the user testing of my prototypes, I learned that no one was aware of the native bee species apart from bumble bees. The classification of native vs non-native was also an unknown fact for everyone participating in my user testing.
In the first comprehensive review of the more than 4,000 native bee species in North America and Hawaii, the Center for Biological Diversity has found that more than half the species with sufficient data to assess are declining.
A systematic status review of North American and Hawaiian native bees, revealed that more than 700 species are in trouble from a range of serious threats, including severe habitat loss and escalating pesticide use.
The widespread decline of European honeybees has been well documented in recent years. But until now much less has been revealed about the 4000 native bee species in North America. These mostly solitary bees play a crucial ecological role by pollinating wild plants and provide more than $3 billion in fruit-pollination services each year in the United States.
Many of the species are still lacking sufficient data to determine their status, and are likely declining, or threatened by the risk of extinction. There is an urgent need to conduct additional research. Since native bees are not domesticated like honeybees it is difficult to access the numbers as there are no good methods in place that can help estimate and filter out the species that require immediate help. There is a growing need to conduct large scale surveys to be able to access the situation.
Moving into the prototype phase, I decided to create a device that can help monitor bee’s in a certain vicinity.
The aims for the project include:
1. Collect data about the different species in the city,
2. This will help determine efficient planting strategies of native plants by the city,
3. That would lead to provisioning for sufficient nesting sites for the bees.
The goal is to streamline the bee monitoring process to efficiently document the bee diversity and abundance on pollinator habitat plantings in order to measure their success in supporting pollinators, or to document changes in the bee community. To test this, I created an experiment to device an alternate nesting site that the bees can use to lay their eggs. This way the observing scientists can have a definite location of the breeding site to estimate the abundance of the species. The device will also help filter the species for easy identification.
The image below (Fig. 6) shows the initial schematic design sketch prepared to begin building the prototype.
The prototype is an alternative nest for solitary native bees that aims to be a medium of awareness while also gathering data on the different species existence in the city and their nesting patterns. There are entrance holes on the front panel for the bees and range from ⅛” to ½” in diameter, spacing them between ½” to ¾” apart. Holes with widths between ¼” to ½” have a depth of 5” to 6”, while holes smaller than ¼” will be 3” to 5” deep.
Going in through the entrance hole the bees reach the nesting tubes, which have a photoresistor sensor at the opening to catch any activity by interfering light. Each photoresistors has an individual LED light connected to it. When there is less or no light on the resistor the LED lights will turn on and when the sensor detects light the LED lights turn off. The demo in the video below will give more clarity of its functionality.
Each hole is linked to its own LED, hence showcasing each bee’s activity which collectively makes for an engaging experience. There are three states represented by the lights:
Active - A light flickering (long or short intervals) indicates the bee is preparing a nest to lay eggs,
Nested - The light constantly remains switched on, indicates the bee has laid eggs and covered the entrance of the tunnel,
Dormant - As the eggs hatch, the new bees will tear open the cover and fly until another bee comes back to lay eggs.
The purpose of the LED’s is not just to showcase the bee’s presence but also act as a tool of communication between the bees and humans. Another purpose of the device to help collect data that can contribute to form a baseline of the current status of pollinators in North America.
1. Cardboard - 24" x 12" (x 2)
2. Nesting Tubes (x 4)
1. Arduino Uno (x 1)
2. Breadboard (x 1)
3. Jumper Cables
4. Photoresistor Sensors
5. 3v LED Lights
6. 220r Resistor
8. Hook-up Wire Spool Set - 22AWG Solid Core
The images below show a mock-up of the Arduino system and which was later fit into the prototype housing case.
The video below is a demonstration of the functionality of the prototype.
Final image of prototype 1 before taking it out for testing. A few visual aides were added to the prototype as finishing touches that would give some context to the viewer, like the holes of the same size were connected with a line for visual guidance.
Prototype Testing 1:
The user testing for prototype 1 was first conducted with 9 users on November 18th, 2018 at Prospect Park, Brooklyn (fig. 23). The group of testers ranged from adults to seniors visiting the park on a Sunday afternoon. The second round of testing was conducted with 3 users on November 28th, 2018 at Washington Square Park, Manhattan (fig. 24). The users here were students at New York University.
The feedback from users included some interesting points:
1. Build ties with community gardens and urban farms to use their space for potential data collection and public demonstrations,
2. Some observed the current size of the prototype to be small and were interested in seeing it grow into a larger outdoor exhibit that could be placed in parks,
3. While some wanted to miniaturize the concept to place it at their homes,
4. Provide adequate and concise information on the box about the bees.
Most importantly, what came to light was that no one was aware of the native species of bees. Although the prototype intends on providing habitation to gather data, it would be relevant to add information that would help spread awareness about these species, their importance, their problems and, how it affects us.
The prototype was built with plywood as it was designed to be an outdoor exhibit to be placed in parks, gardens and other recreational public landscapes. The plywood was then cut in the Epilog Laser Engraver as per the design for the nesting holes and LEDs.
The pieces of plywood were designed to notch together to stand upright as a tower like structure to be able to reach the average eye level of the user.
The Arduino system was then multiplied from the previous prototype and a combined set of 6 Arduinos were installed to light up the 50 LEDs of the exhibit. Each LED was connected to its own individual photoresistor sensor for input.
Process video below with 1/3rd LED lights connected and functioning.
After carefully arranging the Arduinos and wiring for all the lights, paint was applied to 5 sections of the exhibit. The paint colors chosen were black and electric blue to create vibrant contrast with the natural wood texture. With the paint in place, an analog survey was designed to fit into the workflow.
The video below is a demonstration of the prototype before applying the final finishes to the design.