Impact case study
The “Hive” Installation, an Immersive, Multi-sensory Experience that Educates Visitors about the Vital Role of Bees in Feeding the Planet
Unit(s) of assessment: General Engineering
School: School of Science and Technology
The buzzing sound that emanates from a beehive is primarily a by-product of activity, it does not convey the inaudible vibrational hive communications. The latter normally take place locally and internally, carried via the wax within the comb or directly within bee to bee interactions. To record these meaningful signals inside a hive, Associate Professor Martin Bencsik, at NTU came up with the innovation of embedding ultra-sensitive accelerometers into honeybee hive frames to monitor honeybee colony activity. Exploiting his research background in Magnetic Resonance Imaging and numerical processing, and his academic expertise in Biometrics, Bencsik developed machine learning algorithms to extract features of interest from the vibrational measurements, revealing information about the status of the colony and sensing their intention to swarm. Associate Professor Michael Newton, a chartered electrical engineer with an extensive background in measurement electronics at NTU, joined the research, leading on expanding and enhancing the electronics, hardware and experimental techniques and capabilities for the accelerometer-based hive vibrometry measurements.
Artist Wolfgang Buttress and NTU scientists have co-created major immersive artworks, everchanging through lighting and sound effects driven by machine learning algorithms analysing realtime honeybee colony activity. The gigantic 17 metre metal ‘Hive’ has brought honeybee conservation issues to prominence. It was conceived and constructed (for £6 million) for the 2015 World Expo in Milan, where it received 3.3 million visitors and 27 national and international industry awards. The ‘Hive’ is now a popular attraction at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, experienced by 2.9 million people. Kew’s annual report credited the opening of the ‘Hive’ as one of two developments that led to an 18.6% jump in visitor numbers. The sustained creative and scientific multidisciplinary collaboration, originating with the ‘Hive’, has led to further immersive artworks and projects, including the Glastonbury 2019 ‘Beam’ installation in the Greenpeace Field (100,000 visitors) and ‘BEES’ at National Museums Liverpool.
By performing long term vibrometry recording and algorithmic analysis, alongside complementary video studies in observation hives, Bencsik and Newton have distinguished and identified vibrational signals uniquely related to specific physiological actions of the honeybees. Once these contributions to the honeybee's vibrational alphabet have been determined, software algorithms developed by Bencsik automatically scanned the data for the prevalence of these in closed hives. Bencsik and Newton demonstrated the use of these techniques to sense the brood cycle within a given frame, to follow the onset of colony failure in the winter season, to automatically detect and count vibrational pulses of interest, including whooping signals, worker pipes, and the dorsoventral abdominal vibration signal, important to bee keepers as it is widely accepted as a modulatory signal meaning “prepare for greater activity”. Using three-dimensional Fourier analysis over three specific time windows, this work culminated in the demonstration of using the history of occurrences of these signals to predict the colony’s preparation for the swarming process.
Led by Nottingham Trent University researchers Bencsik and Newton, the EU FP7 funded “Swarmonitor” project (2012-2015) undertook research into diagnostic monitoring of honeybee colonies. The research consortium included The Bee Farmers Association of the United Kingdom, The Centre Apicole de Recherche et d'Information (Belgium), The European Professional Beekeepers Association (European Economic Interest Grouping representing Associations in 11 countries), The Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (France), and companies Arnia (England), Capaz (Germany), and Szomel Services and Trade LLC (Hungary). Using highly sensitive vibration detectors the NTU-led researcher consortium decoded honeybee queens' "tooting and quacking" duets in the hive. Previously assumed that these vibration signals where queens were talking to other queens, the research proved instead that this is communication between the queen and the worker bees, with tens of thousands of bees coordinating to release only one queen at a time. The research attracted worldwide media coverage from the BBC (UK, Science and Newsround, 16 Jun 2020), CBC Radio (As It Happens, Canada, 18 Jun 2020), 1 news TVNZ (New Zealand, 17 Jun 2020) Research on the continuing 4-year EU H2020 funded B-GOOD project is creating dynamic learning and innovation systems to support beekeeper decision making, with the aim of enabling healthy and sustainable beekeeping across the whole EU. Bencsik and Newton lead work on developing innovative technologies for monitoring honeybee colonies.
Impacts on creative practice and on the economic prosperity of the creative sector: The ‘Hive’ installation, the focal structure of the UK Pavilion at the World Expo 2015
NTU’s Bee research stimulated new ways of thinking that has enhanced creative practice. The World Expo 2015 (Milan) theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” was announced in early 2014, and the UK Government’s Trade and Investment Department (UKTI) ran a competition inviting tenders to design and build the UK’s Expo Pavilion. Artist Wolfgang Buttress had the idea “of taking a little piece of the British countryside over to Milan … I needed something to hang it on … So I thought of the bee”. Buttress found Bencsik’s Computers and Electronics in Agriculture paper, and they arranged to meet. It was the discussion of Bencsik’s research and the visit to Bencsik’s hives that crystallised the idea for the ‘Hive’ installation, Buttress acknowledged how “We thought if the activity in the hives in Nottingham could transfer live to Milan … We’d have a sense of connection to nature and it would be a fluid thing. We wanted to create an emotional connection”. The artist’s response to their first meeting set the scene for the profound and lasting effect of this collaboration.
NTU’s Bee research also contributed to economic prosperity of the creative sector through the winning of a prestigious £6m contract to build the UK’s Pavilion at the World Expo 2015. Buttress led a partnership bid for the UK Pavilion into the UKTI’s Competition, including engineers Simmonds Studio and architects BDP. This bid featured Buttress and Bencsik’s co-developed ideas, which were central to the bid providing an immersive experience with the ‘Hive’ installation. The bid won the competition and was commissioned to create the UK’s Pavilion at the World Expo 2015, including a £6 million construction contract to British companies Stage One and RISE in April 2014.
Wolfgang Buttress’s studio and NTU’s Bee researchers pioneered the fusion of art, science, and technology, co-creating new multi-sensory forms of artistic expression in the ‘Hive’. The UK Pavilion was an immersive, multi-sensory experience that highlights the decline of the world’s bee population by focusing attention on the importance of pollination for food production. Of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of food worldwide, 70 are pollinated by bees. Light and sounds in the ‘Hive’ installation, as the focal point of the UK Pavilion, responded to movements in a real beehive with nearly 1,000 individually-addressable LED luminaires bringing the immense 40 tonne 17 metres high honeycomb inspired aluminium lattice structure to life.
The “Hive” reached 3.3 million visitors, and a worldwide audience of 450 million people. Also, during the World Expo, 1 May 2015 to 31 October 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Irish President Michael Higgins were hosted at the UK Pavilion. The ‘Hive’ also won critical acclaim and professional recognition with over 27 national and international industry awards, with citations praising the combination of art with science.
Impact on public engagement with the plight of pollinators: The ‘Hive’ at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, ‘Beam’ and Glastonbury festival
2.9 million visitors (2016-2019) experienced the ‘Hive’ at Kew, contributing to increased visitor numbers to Kew, with positive feedback prompting extension of the ‘Hive’s residency. The ‘Hive’ installation, complete with the immersive light and sound experience provided by Bencsik and Newton’s research and technology, opened in Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in June 2016. The ‘Hive’ was the first UK Pavilion to be reused and brought back to Britain after an Expo.
Bee conservation has been promoted, reaching and influencing new diverse audiences through the Glastonbury festival. The Greenpeace Field at Glastonbury 2019 featured the ‘Beam’ installation. The artwork’s audiovisual effects, co-created by Bencsik, included ever changing lighting and sound effects 24 hours a day using Bencsik’s algorithms to relate the activity of the Cornish Black Bee colony living at Michael Eavis’ Worthy Farm.
Sustained impacts on creative practice and on the economic prosperity of the creative sector, in period and continuing: ‘BEES’ at National Museums Liverpool
Since the original ‘Hive’ project, the successful creative-scientific collaboration between Buttress studios and Martin Bencsik and NTU, has continued to flourish and grow, with Benscik acting as the role of the Chief Scientist on numerous projects. The multi-disciplinary collaborative accomplishments of the ‘Hive’, and their co-creative concept of feeding live scientific data into artworks that never look the same twice, have reached into new realms such as solar flare activity in the ‘Corona’ sculpture, and have tangibly provided significant further investment in the UK. Buttress and Bencsik are part-way through designing a new multi-sensory exhibition for National Museums Liverpool called ‘BEES’.
- Bencsik, M; Bencsik, J; Baxter, M; Lucian, A; Romieu, J; Millet, M. (2011). “Identification of the honey bee swarming process by analysing the time course of hive vibrations”, Computers and Electronics in Agriculture 76: 44-50. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.compag.2011.01.004
- Bencsik, M; Le Conte, Y; Reyes, M; Pioz, M; Whittaker, D; Crauser, D; Delso, NS; Newton, MI. (2015). “Honeybee Colony Vibrational Measurements to Highlight the Brood Cycle”, PloS ONE 10: Article Number e0141926. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0141926
- Ramsey, M; Bencsik, M; Newton, MI. (2017). “Long-term trends in the honeybee 'whooping signal' revealed by automated detection”, PLoS ONE 12: Article Number e0171162. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0171162
- Ramsey, M; Bencsik, M; Newton, MI. (2018). “Extensive vibrational characterisation and long-term monitoring of honeybee dorso-ventral abdominal vibration signals”, Scientific Reports 8: 14571. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-32931-z
- Ramsey, M; Bencsik, M; Newton, MI; Reyes, M; Pioz, M; Crauser, D; Delso, NS; Le Conte, Y. (2020). “The prediction of swarming in honeybee colonies using vibrational spectra”, Scientific Reports 10(1): 9798. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-66115-5
- SWARMONITOR project, funded by European Union 7th Framework Programme, Grant FP7-SME-2-12-315146, 1 Nov 2012 to 31 Oct 2015. €1.42m total.
- B-GOOD project, funded by European Union H2020 Programme, Grant H2020-EU.220.127.116.11., 1 June 2019 to 31 May 2023. €7.96m total, €658k to NTU. 13 EU Countries.