Using code to save bees

News |

Italian team with couch Massimo Pescatori on the far left, Davide Incagli in green t-shirt in the center and Lorenzo Casavecchia to the right, posing with the Nepalese team at the 2018 International Final in Thailand. The Future Innovators program was first tested in 2017. The final concept will be ready for the national finals in 2020.

Two highschool friends built a tunnel system to cure bees of a dangerous parasite. They want to join a WRO competition again – and be better prepared.

Imagine you're a bee. You're infected with the dangerous Varroa mite, but you have no idea. You fly home, where you will infect and eventually kill all of your friends. But the hive looks different. There is a tunnel leading to the entrance. And if you knew what a micro camera is, you would see one on the wall just before the tunnel splits in two. The camera notices the tell-tale sign of the parasite on you: a red dot, prompting the system to lead you through the tunnel to the right. Next thing you know, you are covered in a sticky substance. You give a frightened buzz, but as nothing more happens, you scamper into the hive. Now perfectly harmless.

The Italian Future Innovators team in 2018, Davide Incagli and Lorenzo Casavecchia, took over this idea to make a bee-saving tunnel system from their robotics community in the Rome region and won the Rome Cup with it. When a teacher asked the two if they wanted to compete with it at the WRO final in Thailand, they said yes. 
With only two months to get ready, the duo set out to design and build a prototype and create a business plan. Lorenzo wrote the presentation and programmed the Mindstorm part, that controlled where the bees should go. Davide programmed the Arduino software. The got help with the complex camera software from the team who originally came up with the idea. And then they were off.

First time business plan

At the International Final, Davide and Lorenzo both felt their presentation went well. But then came all the questions.
"The judges thought of so many things, that we hadn't thought about. Like, when the bee enters the hive through the tunnel, how does it get out? They had good questions, that we hadn't thought to ask ourselves," says Lorenzo.
The friends felt like they hadn't done enough work on the business plan. But even so, they both saw the business perspective as the best part about the Future Innovators concept. Davide says:
"To think about business for a month, was the most beautiful and strange thing at the same time. We were 16 and never thought these things before.

Bee exit and camera issues

After the competition, they thought a lot about how they could fix the problems and improve their project. Like the issue with the bees not being able to get out: they incorporated a valve, so that bees could exit, but not get in without having been 'scanned'. Back at their school, they were supposed to present their project, but had to cancel. They ran into problems with the camera, which had already acted up at the competition, as it ran three different programs.

The importance of saving bees

What pains the duo the most, though, is the fact, that not many of the visitors understood how important the project is. Which is why it might have to be a part of the project to educate people about the need for saving bees. Only four people who came to their stand got it. Lorenzo says:
"They were beehivers. When we explained the project, they confirmed that the mite is very dangerous."
Davide continues: 
"They said that the project is really important, because bees give us a lot of benefits, but many people don't know this."

Takeways for next time

If Lorenzo and Davide pick up the project again, they want to build a new prototype from scratch, which is bigger and better than the first one. Also, if they join again, they will try to anticipate all issues, that can arise. They want to research more, so they know what they are getting into.
"Like our stand, it was bland with only two posters. Others had beautiful stands. But it was our own fault, we should have read more about the project, how to prove it, before presenting," Lorenzo says, and continues:
"To be honest, we should have put in more effort. The japanese team had a great idea for a project: a robot which took food waste and turned it into candy. Who would think of that? Their minds are a lot more open than ours. That is thought-provoking."

The Bee Careful project was developed with the constant and devoted support of professor Daniele Carnevale, Giordano Di Censo and Federico Crescenzi of Tor Vergata University.

Colony collapse syndrome

The drastic decline in global honeybee populations has been named 'colony collapse syndrome'. Scientists say that the contributing factors are pesticides, poor nutrition and parasites. The parasites hurt honeybee populations the most. And the worst parasite is the Varroa destructor.