An intelligent beehive designed by a Loughborough University student is hoping to make beekeeping simpler and more accessible.
Ellie MacLeod has developed a self-monitoring hive aimed at novices, in the hope that it will inspire more people to take up beekeeping and help boost the number of honey bees, which has declined massively in recent years.
Designed for her final-year project at Loughborough University, the industrial design and technology graduate wanted to create an urban beehive that makes beekeeping more accessible, taking on board the challenges her own family had faced in keeping bees.
“I’ve been keeping bees at home for around five years now, with my dad being the main beekeeper. It’s been a really enjoyable hobby and I’ve learnt a lot from it, but the traditional hives we have had a few problems. Last summer, two collapsed and we didn’t understand why or how we could have prevented it.
“For my final-year project I decided to look at the issues we’d had and think about how we could be keeping bees differently; preventing some of the issues before they become real problems.”
Ellie wanted to make the hobby more accessible by removing the need for specialist equipment and large open spaces, but also make sure that her hive was the best possible environment for the bees.
“There is a lot to consider with beekeeping, for example specifications you need to meet in order to design a hive that will suit the bees’ needs as well as the beekeeper’s,” she notes. “Throughout the project it’s always been my main goal to create an environment that’s healthy and habitable for bees. The enjoyment and ease of use for the beekeeper was my second priority, so the biggest challenge was making sure I hit both of these goals without detracting from either.
“The other challenge was time,” she adds. “The project takes place over a nine-month period and there’s plenty more I would have liked to try out and explore if I had longer. The next stages of design and development will have to be done in my own time now!”
Her final product – Mella – reduces the risk for users by removing as much direct contact as possible thanks to a removable top section, plus they can see their bees by ‘unwrapping’ the hive to look through its clear plastic shell.
“In the top section is a built-in honey collection system,” Ellie says. “This uses essentially the same mechanism as a salad spinner, using centrifugal force to release the honey from the comb. This then collects into a separate, specially designed funnel. Here the honey goes through two varying meshes to remove debris such as wax and dead bees. The beekeeper is then free to siphon off the honey at their own leisure.
“The hive itself is mostly rotationally moulded from UV-stabilised polyethylene,” she continues. “This allows for each plastic part to consist of two thin wall sections with a void in-between, which is perfect for creating better insulation. The temperature within the hive needs to be kept at a very steady and specific range to allow the bees to work with and mould the wax. Bees will maintain their own internal temperature, but the insulation helps them to keep this consistent.”
The hive also has a built-in self-monitoring system. This measures temperature and humidity, comparing data with other hives, and also has a microphone to record the hive, allowing keepers to monitor the health of their bees via an app.
“The microphone can pick up the frequency that the bees ‘buzz’ at. This data is then compared to existing data on hive acoustics and from this all sorts can be worked out about the health and state of the colony,” Ellie explains. “The frequency can tell whether a queen is present, if the colony is going to swarm, if they’re diseased and so on.
“Data can be viewed using the Mella app, which shows each data set taken from your hive, and compares it to averages from your area so the beekeeper can tell whether their hive is performing well. The app also sends the user an instant alert if any of these stats falls out of a healthy parameter and will give them advice on how to go about solving the problem,” she continues.
“Overall, Mella is about putting less pressure on the user and giving them access to the help and advice they need,” she adds. “It also puts the bees welfare first, focusing less on honey collection and more on their happiness and healthiness. Hopefully the design will also encourage a slightly younger market to take up beekeeping!”
Recently Ellie was announced as the runner up for the New Designer of the Year award for her project, which she says she’s still completely shocked about.
“It’s a really amazing feeling knowing that a project you’ve worked on so hard for so long is being recognised by other designers,” she enthuses. “I’m really excited to see what will happen next with the project and if there is potential to develop it further!”
Ellie would love to hear from businesses interested in working with her on this project. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org