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Engineering News

Student-run WaggleNet grows in recruits, knowledge

10/29/2019 Heather Coit

WaggleNet members work late at night solving high-priority problems at their station inside ECE Open Lab.
WaggleNet members work late at night solving high-priority problems at their station inside ECE Open Lab.

It was just two years ago when WaggleNet’s three-member team tested two sensors from their wireless monitoring system to collect data, in real time, at the Illinois Bee Research Facility in Urbana. The open-source, mesh networking system monitors bee health without the need to open hives and uses an ad-hoc network for communication

Back then, the group consisted of two undergraduates, Jimmy He (B.S., Computer Engineering ‘20) and Xiaolin Wu (B.S., Electrical Engineering ’21), and their advisor, ECE Professor Chris Schmitz. After a successful deployment at the research facility, the WaggleNet team is growing as they learn lessons from this trial phase.  

WaggleNet, a self-funded group inspired by activities in a redesigned  ECE110, now boasts up to about 17 active members, including He, with students representing ECE and Computer Science. Members currently make up four sub-teams: WaggleNet Things, producing monitoring devices and communications protocols; WaggleNet Cloud, using a cloud platform to support the devices and research data; Data Science and Systems, researching AI algorithms that solve bee problems; and CineSquad, producing advertisements and featuring informational films. A fifth sub-team, WaggleNet LLC, is being developed to handle the legality of selling products to fund the project. 

“We have crazy dreamers, nerdy engineers, and creative artists, just to name a few types; each of them has a chance of putting their talent to practical use,” He said. “This is what keeps WaggleNet unique, and it will continue to be.”

Those talents are on display at WaggleNet’s new website and their YouTube channel, which features a tri-weekly, live-streamed colloquium series hosted by current members. Topics range from learning about sub-teams and their functions to promoting technical understanding of a development platform, like GitHub; all while sharing their overall experiences in a relaxed atmosphere. 

Strong communication and recruitment go hand-in-hand as the team has learned over the past two years. Schmitz, who invites WaggleNet members to run experimental data collection projects on his personal apiary in rural Royal, IL, believes targeted recruitment produces better results for the project as a whole.

“We should follow up on recruitment of not only technical team members, but also of beekeepers to help keep the group grounded on what may and may not be a reasonable approach as we impede upon the honeybees’ environment,” Schmitz said. “Along those lines, we have opened communication with many researchers and beekeepers.” 

For He, sharing experiences at colloquiums is another way to improve communication between a growing number of recruits.

Jimmy He, a founding member of WaggleNet, sets up a camera to live stream the team's tri-weekly colloquium series.
Jimmy He, a founding member of WaggleNet, sets up a camera to live stream the team's tri-weekly colloquium series.

“Each WaggleNet member has produced and aggregated knowledge throughout projects, and teaching each other is the only way such knowledge becomes sustainable,” He said. “As a result, we have excellent documentation on everything we’ve done.”

That approach helps the team prioritize the right projects to tackle first as they continue to find better ways to monitor bee health through their device.

“WaggleNet is aiming to reach the market at the end of this school year and become self-sustained,” He said. “We are further stressing on the robustness and security, and aligning the design towards market demands and regulatory requirements.”

For Schmitz, working closely with potential clients and current clients, like the Bee Research Facility, is important for growth.

“I’d like to see continued conversations with potential users to help us determine what beekeepers and researchers most desire from a group like us,” Schmitz said. “We’ve already found that the strongest research and industry interests are not necessarily what we first targeted. I’d like to see us make novel contributions to those real needs; I’d like to see an increase in collaborators across research institutions and watch those contributions multiply.”  

The next WaggleNet Colloquium takes place on Wednesday, Oct. 30 from 7-8p.m. in ECEB 1013. WaggleNet CineSquad will teach engineering students how to promote coursework projects through video production.