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Ann Arbor 6th graders and their mentor, Palani Palani-Appan.

Ever since they arrived in the United States in 1987, red, hairy varroa mites have been attacking honey bees. They get into a hive, and within a short time, all the bees are dead. Along with pesticides and viruses, the mites are behind the collapse of much of the U.S. population of wild and managed honey bees.

Enter sixth grade inventors from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who have patented a digitally connected alarm system to warn bee-keepers of mite infestation. Their invention inspects bees as they enter a hive, detects the tell-tale presence of a red spot -- the mite -- on bees, shoots a photo and emails an alert to the bee-keeper.

Between the lines: The students' alarm system, their entry in a Lego-sponsored invention competition, addresses one of the biggest problems in the bee crisis: a time gap in noticing a hive infestation. Since bee-keepers are alerted, they can act to attack the mites.

These young inventors were finalists in the competition, organized by FIRST, a global science and technology youth group led by the inventor Dean Kamen. The theme in this year's competition was how to help wildlife. The winners of the $20,000 grand prize, announced Tuesday evening in Washington, DC, were an Ontario, Canada, group of students with the invention of a way to monitor the water intake of horses.

How the bees idea works: Palani Palani-Appan, a Toyota engineer serving as a mentor for the Ann Arbor students, told Axios that they worked wholly with off-the-shelf technology. They started with a cheap Raspberry Pi PC that they fashioned into a motion detector for the interior of the hive. Then they used a Python program to inspect for the red spots. "The biggest problem has always been that you don't have time to inspect every hive," Palani-Appan said. "Now, the first day you know the mites are there, and there are many ways to solve it."

Go deeper

41 mins ago - World

Pentagon warns of ISIS-K capabilities outside Afghanistan

The site of an airstrike conducted by the U.S. against a planner for ISIS-K in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan in August. Photo: Xinhua via Getty Images

U.S. intelligence believes ISIS-K has the "intent" to eventually launch attacks outside of Afghanistan and could be capable of doing so "somewhere between six or 12 months," a top Pentagon official told senators Tuesday.

Why it matters: The U.S. withdrawal and subsequent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has raised fears that terrorist groups will reconstitute and potentially pose a renewed threat to the U.S. homeland.

Exclusive: Billionaires back new media firm to combat disinformation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new public benefit corporation backed by billionaires Reid Hoffman, George Soros, and others is launching Tuesday to fund new media companies and efforts that tackle disinformation.

Why it matters: Good Information Inc. aims to fund and scale businesses that cut through echo chambers with fact-based information. As part of its mission, it plans to invest in local news companies.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Scoop: Sequoia Capital just blew up the VC fund model

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sequoia Capital, one of the world's oldest and most successful venture capital firms, is forming a single fund to hold all of its U.S. and European investments, including stakes in publicly-traded companies, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Venture capital is the money of innovation, but the industry itself rarely innovates. This is a radical exception.

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