The sarabee hive-charger, a finale to the sarabee saga.

For our final assignment this quarter, I chose to revisit my beloved sarabee and make improvements to the charging port and data extraction system. The goal of the sarabee project was to assess the feasibility and desirability of a robotic autonomous drone for scientific data collection to aid in bee conservation efforts. This system was designed to be non-intrusive, environmentally friendly, and easy to use. For a quick refresher on this project, check out my first process blog!


Originally, I created a CAD model of an individual bee charger. This model, shown below, would charge and extract data from an individual bee.

After receiving feedback from my classmates, and a conservation specialist, I realized this design is not desirable. I was leveraging biomimicry for the design of the sarabee and this charger does not align with that principle, as bees are hive-minded. It is not intuitive and very bulky to charge a singular bee with a personal charger because researchers would likely have multiple bees deployed at different hives. Additionally, this charger does not mean my personal standard for the quality of work I put out into the world.

My goal for my final project was to redesign the sarabee charger in order to evaluate the desirability of a hive based charger for autonomous robotic informants for data extraction and maintenance.

Initial Sketch

To redesign this project, I went back to the drawing board and produced initial sketches. One of which I presented to my conservation specialist for feedback.

With my initial design, I wanted to mimic a hive very closely and have the bees land on protruding panels to protect them from breaking. I included large buttons and a charging port for ease of use. This hive is complete with both a stand and hanging ring, so researchers and scientists can place the hive wherever is most convenient.

I presented this initial sketch to my conservation specialist, who has been consulting on this project since its conception, for evaluation and feedback.

Initial Evaluation

Through presenting my initial sketches to my conservation specialist I received critical feedback on the form of this hive charger. The conservation specialist had the following concerns

  1. The hive shape is too bulky for transport.
  2. The panels on the sides, while protective of the bees, add a fragile element to the equipment.
  3. It’s quite large and could be viewed as intrusive or intimidating by scientists unfamiliar with technology.

As noted above, her main concerns related to the form of the hive as a research technology. She also had questions about information and data visualization on the hive.

  1. How do we know when the bees are charged?
  2. How will we know when the data is all extracted, and that it’s done properly?
  3. Is there any way to see view the data from all of the bees?

These questions and concerns are novel and changed the way I thought about my design. As much as the sarabee bee serves bees, the charging and data extraction port is used by researchers and scientists and needs to be created with their work in mind. I used these questions to iterate upon my design to create a final sketch.

Final Sketch

After gathering this feedback, I sketched a sleek half-hive form for the charger/ data port. I reduced the button size and overall form size to make the hive charger more portable and less intrusive. The half hive is a surface charger where the bees land and are charged on contact. The percent charged is displayed as a progress ring around the bee, and the data extraction is displayed as an outer ring around the bee. I also created an accompanying software to help visualize the bee data. All of these features are illustrated in the sketch below.

Once a bee lands on the hive, the data visualization and extraction begins. An inner charging ring forms around the bee in red( if the bee is 0–40% charged), yellow (if the bee is 41–79 % charged), or green( if the bee is at least 80% charged). A blue outer ring will form around the bee indicating that the data is beginning to upload to the hive application, and showing download progress.

On the paired application, researchers can view the data from all bees, the health of all bees, the charging percent of all bees, and also connect with the greater sarabee community. Researchers can also view individual bees by selecting the bee from the in app hive diagram, and the accompanying bee will light up on the hive charger.

Within the specific bee’s profile, researchers can be reminded of where the bee was deployed, if there are any malfunctions, the composition of the honey, and other data collected.

Overall this sketch addressed the conservation specialists' concerns by creating a smaller less intrusive form with strong data visualization.


Because the physical form of this prototype was so central to the functionality, I chose to work with my analog prototyping skills to shape the form of the sarabee hive. It also used this method to visualize the scale of the system by creating bees that are closer to the actual size of a honeybee. I used foam core, puffballs, puff paint, spray paint, and acrylic paint to prototype my hive charger.

One practical skill I learned was a strategy for spraypainting. I wanted the hive to have a professional sleek look, and spray paint can provide a smooth finish. I had never used spray paint in a project before and I quickly learned that spray paint melts styrofoam. I readjusted my strategy to incorporate multiple thin layers of spray paint and sprayed from a farther distance. This was much more successful. I glued my puffballs together to create small modular bees to attach to the hive charger to measure scale. I painted on the rings for the charge and the data downloading percentage using green, blue, red, and yellow acrylic paints.

In addition to creating the hive, I prototyped the two screens of the accompanying hive application.

I made minimal adjustments to these screens other than moving the “midbody malfunction” warning to directly below the bee. You can view my prototype here.

Final Evaluation & Future Considerations

After prototyping my final hive design, I returned to my conservation expert for final critique and to inform future iterations of this product. She felt my second iteration better met the needs of conservation researchers. She said the half hive sarabee charger was more compact and less intrusive. If I were to continue this project, my conservation expert mentioned how important it is to be mindful of the materials each product is being made from, and how it’s being made. In order for a product to truly be a conservation tool, it has to be ethically and responsibly made. In addition to material sourcing, it is also important to think about distribution of the sarabee system in terms of carbon emissions.

Throughout the process of development, my conservation expert has provided me with evaluation, critique and I could not have created this product without her!


Overall, I am pleased with this work.

The hive based charger is more desirable than an individual charger because it is less intrusive, and more practical for the bee researcher.

I am proud of my process for this project. Evaluating and testing the sarabee system has been one of the biggest challenges I have addressed in this course this quarter. With this final project, I used a refined, iterative hueristic evaluation consulting with experts to ensure I met the needs of the bees and the researchers alike. I spent a significant amount of time truly considering my users needs in addition to environmental impact, and that is what I love to do and why I am in HCDE!

I could improve on this project by refining my craftsmanship of the physical prototype. As I mentioned in the prototyping section, I melted part of my styrofoam dome because I used the spray paint incorrectly. If I were to do this project again, I would use research spray paint before I used it, and also used chalk markers for the information visualizations on the hive. The painted circles could be neater and brighter to better represent the information visualization. In some ways feel the illustration is a better representation of my vision than the actual prototype. However, the purpose of this course is to stretch our abilities and practice, and I am glad I used this opportunity to refine my physical prototyping skills.

In the future, I hope to continue refining my analog prototyping skills to supplement my future projects and communicate ideas to non-designers. I plan to continue to partner with experts outside the HCDE field to make innovative impactful designs that tackle real world problems!