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#Skelia_Talks with Oleksandr, Data Scientist at Skelia Kyiv

Often we find ourselves working with different people, drinking our morning coffee with them at the office kitchen and having just random chats during lunch breaks. But sometimes we never truly know who these people are and what spectacular experience behind their backs is. Skelia is full of wonderful, interesting and exceptional people and today we’ve decided to talk with Oleksandr. He works as a Data Scientist at the Skelia Kyiv office and has a very unusual and globally important side-project related to bees. So, let’s get started!

  • Hi, Oleksandr, tell us more about yourself!
  • Hi there! I am a mathematician by education and besides, I am a teacher in the third generation. I graduated from the Faculty of Cybernetics of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, where I finished my postgraduate education and worked at the department. For a long, I was working in academic science. But as the migration to the business started, I began working as an auditor and an analyst. I’ve worked on various projects, the essence of which was the opportunity to apply mathematics to solving real-world problems. I had very interesting projects in Poland related to metallurgy, for example. Before Skelia, I worked in Warsaw for the mobile operator T-Mobile as a data scientist. And now at Skelia, I work as a data scientist as well. I’ve been here since October 2019. I work at a fascinating German-based project now. I am currently forecasting the analytics, trends, and prices for various commodities that are represented on the stocks. Now we are focusing on the agricultural sector. In the future, we plan to expand our knowledge and achievements to other industries as well, and I’m very engaged in this. 
  • Do you like working at Skelia?
  • Skelia is awesome. In T-Mobile, we had an open space office with 150 people, and once I joined Skelia, where we have 25 people in total – this was a great and attractive contrast. The people here are friendly and the atmosphere in the office is great.
  • It’s delightful to hear! Tell us more about your hobby.
  • Well, at first it was a hobby. Now it’s far more serious I would say. We’ve created a smart beehive system for monitoring bee family activities named Amohive.
  • Wow! That’s pretty unusual. Tell us how it all started.
  • My friend Igor inherited the apiary about a few years ago. Igor has never been very involved in apiculture in a traditional way, he was always more curious about the smart solutions in today’s world. So he thought it would be interesting to turn beehives into IoT devices. At first, it was fun for all of us, just a hobby. But as time has passed, our team began to grow. And that was when we realized that through technology, we could pay attention to beekeeping, both adults and children. All children are stuck in smartphones nowadays and it’s a problem to get them out of there, you know. And it’s the game form that could make them interested in beekeeping. Now, I would say that this industry is more for seniors as it’s mostly associated with older people. Technologies, on the contrary, are associated with the younger generations. And a project like this is kind of a bridge between generations. 
  • You are definitely right. This is a bridge and the one that is quite curious to pass. Tell us, how did you get started with this project and what’s your role now?
  • I knew about Igor’s idea since the very beginning, but first, it was an engineering challenge. At first, this was a field for engineers – for example, the search for the optimal hive design, the optimal battery that would maintain the sensors, etc. For me, analyzing the flow of information from these hives was the most interesting part. Plus the business component – I apply for different programs, build financial models, prepare reports. Basically, I’m focused on data science and analytics, finance, and business strategy.
Project like this is kind of a bridge between generations
  • What about the technology base – what are the components of your system?
  • Directly smart hive, data cloud and Android application where you can view this data. Of course, when our hives are set all over the world, we will need to expand. That means we will already have to deal with big data. And so we will need solutions for that. Now we are finishing the development of the web interface for our application. 
  • How many such hives are around the world now?
  • Around 40-50 items.
  • And does that include the prototypes?
  • None of the first hives are included in this number. We have been constantly updating the hive, adding new functionality. It took us a long time to figure out the optimal battery and its location, for example. First, we put it on the roof, and then we found out that it was way more efficient to put it in the side at an angle – so we could get more energy from the sun and it also served as a good entrance for bees into the hive. And yeah, it also looked good. By the way, another advantage of our hives is how we can solve the problem of geographical proof of the origin of honey. If you did not collect the honey, you do not know where it came from. And with our hive, we can determine the exact location with the accuracy up to geographical coordinates and understand where this honey comes from.
  • Your beehive has been going through various transformations and modifications, tell us more.
  • That’s right. Our hive featured certain stages. At each stage, we added something. An important step was to add electronic weight because a lot of water runs through the hive every day, up to two liters. And this should be taken into account for clearer calculations of how much honey a hive brings in a day. Every year we add something new. Either the design changes or the technological elements are added. It’s more of an R&D process. We implement something, look at the results, and then come up with new solutions. Having communicated with scientists, we understand what is needed. The next step is by means of chemical analyzers to understand the content of honey, whether there are carcinogens in it. Our task now is to develop a platform on which over time we can attach more functionality and solve certain problems and needs. For example, our colleague wants to add computer vision there in order to count the bees. Why not?
  • Your project has a rather big world map right now, thanks to whom? 
  • Over the 15 years of my experience, I have gained many working relationships. And accordingly, I know about the existence of many programs where we could submit our project, especially if it brings something for the environment or creates jobs in the regions. Unfortunately, it is more difficult for us to apply for such programs in Ukraine because we have to prove the need for our project twice or even three times. It’s difficult for people here to understand the importance of our work. And of course, if the project involves some kind of investment, it is difficult to look for it here; in Europe, it is much easier. We knocked on every door and keep on doing so. Our entire team was not tied to the site at the time of launch, and we were able to promote our project in different locations like Poland and Canada. And at this stage, we can see how to turn this to an engaging start-up.
We knocked on every door and keep on doing so
  • How did it work out in Canada?
  • Ukrainians have a specific attitude to Canada, you know. Canada is a paradise for beekeepers. There is something always blooming, it is possible to collect rather large amounts of honey and there is another, I would say very friendly, attitude towards beekeepers. They have a very advanced level of pollination as well. How does it work? The farmer orders a beehive in his garden and, accordingly, his harvest increases by 20-30 percent thanks to bees. As a result, farmers are willing to pay money for this. Now, for example, there is a batch of experimental hives that were acquired by a University in New Brunswick, Canada. They are now installed there and currently collecting information. Scientists are very pleased. Now they plan to even extend the program and buy more hives. Till today, there was no such detailed information about the bee behavior with so many details and in such volume. Also, we are currently trying to implement projects in Ukraine and Poland and plan to propose them in Canada. For example, places where it is possible to establish beehives and then provide services in the sphere of rest and recreation. I mean, maybe even spa, massages.
  • Very interesting. And what other countries are you planning to negotiate with?
  • Now we are having a conversation with the Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia. Their beekeeping traditions are very unique; they have their own authentic regional honey. At this stage, we have sent them very detailed information about our hives and how they work. They are thinking of acquiring a test apiary and equipping it in Tbilisi or Batumi.
  • And in terms of data science – what’s impressive for you? Did you have a chance to make some discoveries?
  • Oh, yes. A lot of interesting things can be done in this field. To start, there is a typical anomaly detection task in data science. For example, we gathered information that a few days before we learned that something had happened to the bee family, bees began to generate other sound spectra. And in the future, by noticing changes we can prevent some unfortunate situations. This is just an example of how anomaly detections and predictions in data science work. We are constantly discovering something new, it is kind of a step from black and white television to the color one. We have plans to have our hives all over the world. 
  • What about you, do you have such a hive yourself?
  • We have our group hives, in several locations near Kyiv. And of course, if I have friends who understand my aim – I offer them to install these hives as well. 
  • What problems can your hive system solve in the life of a usual beekeeper?
  • We are constantly discovering new challenges and new opportunities where applicable. Globally, there is a global problem of bees distinct. And that’s the problem of the last decades for agriculture. If we had a global database, we could process it and understand the causes and solve this problem globally. There are also regional problems that can be addressed. For instance, a mechanism for attracting new people to beekeeping. For example, there are few professionally trained beekeepers in Poland, and if they faced a growing beekeeping market, there would simply be no specialists, no one to attract. With our program, we try to popularize beekeeping. And again – the risks of one beekeeper. When he or she leaves the apiary, they don’t know what’s going on in the hive. And if they had our smart beehive, they would be able to watch every second what was happening there. Everything is visible – even for example if the branch falls on a hive. And there will be scientific interest as well. For example, those scientists in Canada suggest putting seismic sensors in the hives. And install these beehives on the other side of Canada – on the side of the seismic Pacific ring. And if our hives were able to collect seismic data, it would be a whole research station. It’s very exciting.
  • Ok, I see. And what is your main goal now?
  • We cannot sell these beehives very expensively; we cannot present them as some element of luxury. Our task is to introduce people to beekeeping, to show all possibilities of an apiary. Beekeepers are mostly conservative, every second one will say – why do I need this kind of hive. And we show them and describe how it all works. One participant of our team attends almost all possible agricultural conferences in Ukraine. We created a small copy of our beehive for him to display. We try to let everyone understand that we live in such a world, where information flows will only increase. And in fact, our goal now is to keep people informed and expand the network.
Urban beekeeping
  • You also work with children, tell us more about that.
  • The wife of one of our team members works in the educational sector in Poland, especially with everything related to eco-topics and technologies. We decided to show children how the hive works and display different aspects of beekeeping. For example, when we raise the hive cover, the temperature inside drops. Plus, we have prepared materials for this presentation with a lot of interesting information about how hives changed within time. The kids were so excited and I’m sure if they were offered to go to the apiary – they would go. Now, for example, scientists brought out bees that do not bite people. Also, there is a very popular trend now called “urban beekeeping”. It’s beekeeping in the city. Just imagine, you can put a hive even on the top of a skyscraper.
  •  But where does the bee take pollen in a town? 
  • It flies within a radius of 2.5 km; there is always something to be found.
  • What are the biggest obstacles in your activity?
  • Sometimes you have a lot of negotiations and they are unsuccessful. But I don’t take it as a waste of time; I take it more as an experience. Every time I try to make some conclusions for myself in the future. Negative experience is also an experience, you know.
  • Right. And do you teach now?
  • I recently had talks with my faculty and they offered to give some lectures in the course of machine learning. Well, it is difficult to predict something about this in the current situation.
  • What are your forecasts for what is happening today?
  • Now we can see a very big effect for the last 3-4 weeks on agricultural products. We are now in an area of ​​abnormal cross-activity in which it’s very difficult to predict anything. But we will still draw some knowledge from it because it is a significant experience. We understand that when the situation begins to normalize, we will offer something to our potential customers to offset all the costs they have incurred.
  • That’s great. Thanks so much for your time and your story!

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