Everyone knows that honeybees do more than produce their eponymous foodstuff, playing an essential role in spreading pollen from plant to plant. But just how important are they? According to the experts, bees are absolutely essential. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) credits honeybees with supporting a third of the nation’s food production and adding $15 billion in value to our agricultural output (all free of charge!). 

Writing for Towards Data Science, Caleb Cheng goes so far as to note, “without honeybees, the world’s food supply chain would collapse.” Such crucial creatures have naturally inspired enterprises and concerned experts to deploy technology like computer vision to better understand and protect vulnerable populations.

Why We Need Bees and Why They Need Us

A single bee colony (composed of tens of thousands of bees) can pollinate hundreds of millions of flowers each day. Here are just a few of items that’d be difficult or impossible to find on store shelves without the help of honeybees: 

  • Apples
  • Blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries
  • Cashews, almonds, and macadamia nuts
  • Cantaloupes and watermelons
  • Chili peppers and bell peppers
  • Green beans, lima beans, string beans, and kidney beans
  • Pumpkins, squash, and zucchini

In 2006 researchers first observed major drops in bee populations and began to track them throughout the next decade. The phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) was attributed to a number of factors including climate change and an abundance of new pesticides. 

While fears around CCD have dissipated in recent years, a period of serious concern has helped raise awareness of the valuable role pollinators play. What’s more, these insects and animals remain at a critical crossroads. Instances of CCD have only decreased as a result of concerted effort from the scientific community and bee populations can only continue to thrive if efforts continue.

Computer Vision and Beekeeping

Researchers have recognized the potential for artificial intelligence and machine learning to generate insights into bee populations and better support and manage them. Individual beekeepers can enhance tracking and monitoring across their hives by deploying detection models capable of recognizing bees and following their movement. On a broader scale, such models can follow the migration and population changes of entire colonies. 

An ongoing project at the Australian National University is just one example of AI-supported studies into honeybee behavior. Though honeybees have attracted a great deal of study over the years, observation is historically conducted through “observation hives.” Researchers at ANU have developed a novel deep learning-based approach to track five colonies, decode their activities, study behavioral dynamics, and learn to classify bee behavior more accurately. Elsewhere in Australia, computer vision has helped to identify bee-killing pests and keep hive populations safe. 

Live Video Analytics: The Future of Agribusiness

Beekeepers aren’t the only types of farmers for whom computer vision can make a transformative difference. Crop, livestock, and process monitoring models can ensure more accurate counts on pig and sheep farms, help assess the health and well being of steers, and identify risk factors across their full manufacturing cycle.

Supporting an Ag Giant with Computer Vision

JBS, one of the world’s largest food producers, partnered with Plainsight to attain more accurate counts and enhance its livestock management. Traditionally, counting was a manual process for JBS. The arrangement put immense pressure on specific employees to count near-identical animals, often in less-than-ideal conditions. Plainsight’s robust detection model was able to attain accuracy greater than 99.5%, saving potential thousands every year.  

Derek Vote, a Meat Scientist with JBS, expressed his satisfaction:

We were amazed at the speed at which Plainsight’s vision AI achieved a very accurate solution in all conditions, saving us significant resources, time, and money. 

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Schedule a conversation with Plainsight’s team today to learn more about how computer vision models and hands-on support from our experts can help ensure the health of your crops, animals, and processes. 

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