apic.ai x THE LÄND.

Based on an interview with Katharina Schmidt, Managing Director of apic.ai.

Ein Imker arbeitet an einem Bienenkasten.

Using AI to combat bee mortality

The young start-up apic.ai from Karlsruhe has developed a solution that uses Artificial Intelligence to get to the bottom of global insect mortality. An important issue, because the drastic decline in pollinators has an impact on the basis of life for all of us – on both the secure supply of food through agriculture and on the preservation of biodiversity in nature.

It all started when Katharina Schmidt, who founded the company together with Frederic Tausch and Matthias Diehl, was working in the “founders’ lab” at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences after completing her Master’s degree. This facility is intended to inspire founders and support the start-up process. The perfect environment for Katharina Schmidt, who had “discovered” beekeeping, species extinction and biodiversity for herself after an inspiring conversation with a Black Forest beekeeper. The idea for apic.ai began to take shape.

“It started with an almost naive basic idea: For me it seemed that most beekeepers were not very good at marketing. My idea was to help them to increase their sales, and to secure the existence of many bee colonies in doing so. At the time I still thought we were only talking about honey bees, but little by little I came to realise that in fact, the problem is a much bigger one.”

Together with Baden-Württemberg’s Minister of Education at the time, Theresia Bauer, she campaigned for a bee colony to be allowed to settle on the roof of the university: Apis Academis, the educational bees. A small website was created, which eventually led to an application being made to a start-up accelerator of the state of Baden-Württemberg.

“The problem of global insect mortality is not that there is no one prepared to do something about it, but that it is not clear what to do. There was no suitable measurement tool at the time, and consequently, there were lots of opinions, but hardly any robust data.”

The idea was to observe the bees very closely in order to investigate what was happening both within and outside the colonies. By filming insects flying in and out with an automatic camera system, data on their behaviour is collected, and anomalies can be identified. The integrated AI analyses the image data in real time. The data can be used to draw conclusions about environmental pollution, pesticides and the biological diversity of the relevant surroundings.

“The potential of our monitoring systems to assist with the risk assessment of pesticides in order to protect pollinators has now also been recognised at EU level and incorporated in the relevant guidelines. We have already received enquiries from all over the world.”

In the meantime, the Karlsruhe start-up has won a series of awards, including the Start-up BW Elevator Pitch (1st prize) and the Digital Female Leader Award 2022 in the area of sustainability. It is also a prize-winner in the digital innovations competition for start-ups of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action.

As well as Baden-Württemberg’s countless green spaces and wonderful nature, Katharina Schmidt greatly appreciates the enthusiasm for innovation that runs in the state’s DNA, its promotion of art and culture, and the quality of life. The latter is reflected for example in initiatives like the so-called “milieu conservation”, which helps protect the specific composition of the population that has evolved in certain areas. If she could award a prize herself, Schmidt says, she would give one to Karlsruhe’s Oststadt (eastern district), a hotspot for start-ups, with affordable prices and lots of nature.

Roboterhand der Firma Vincentsystems in Nahaufnahme.