Bee Hotel | Vapour Detection System

4e Technology bee vapour detection system electronics assemblyProduct Development, Prototyping and Electronics Manufacturing

Our client designed a concept for training bees to respond to a specific scent to detect traces of vapours such as drugs or explosives.  They faced a unique challenge in that ‘training’ the bees to respond to a specific scent is a painstaking manual process.

Why not use sniffer dogs, why bees?

Honey bees have 170 odorant receptors, and have a sense of smell 50 times more powerful than a dog.  Bees are cheaper, can be trained in hours and trials had proven that in large numbers they produce statistically more accurate results.

The cost of the ‘training’ process was proving too high for most potential applications to be commercially viable, and needed to be reduced.  This was achieved by building an automated Bee Conditioning Unit (BCU), known internally as the “Bee Hotel”.  Manual training meant only one bee could be trained at a time.  Automating the process meant huge time saving and also reduced inconsistencies.

Identifying which bees have stuck their tongues out and providing each with a sugar reward is probably not normally top of the list of design and electronics manufacturing challenges that one would expect to face!!

Nevertheless, this is exactly the brief our team faced: – to develop and manufacture prototypes for the automatic Bee Conditioning Unit (BCU) for Inscentinel, a biotechnology company that uses insects for trace vapour detection.

The team at 4E worked closely with our long-term mechanical design and CAD partners to come up with a complete solution for a ‘Bee Hotel’.  We brainstormed different mechanisms and control systems, and decided on automated routers, normally dedicated to machining circuit boards.  These were put to a new use as ‘bee cassettes’, and were produced in a few days using rapid prototyping and CNC machining.   They were then fully assembled in a test bed.  We manufactured the 3U rack fascias for the prototype conditioning system, providing a complete prototyping solution for our client.

The bee hotel’s first production run was a great success and worked as expected. 

The result:  Larger numbers of bees trained in a shorter time and precision control over all relevant variables. This made the process made much more commercially viable enabling our clients to secure funding for future development.

It is important to note that this process does not harm the bees!

Key Services Supplied to this Case Study:

•  Experienced Technical Knowledge and Design Support
•  Fast and Reactive Prototyping
•  Electronic Manufacturing
•  Electro-Mechanical Assembly


From design conception, through to product end of life management 4E can support your product.


Contact the team at 4e