Using 3D Video Game Technology to Help Threatened Wild Bee Species

by | Sep 1, 2023 | Heartivist Of The Week

More than 42,100 of the world’s species are threatened with extinction, according to the ICUN.

“My hope is that all this amazing technology humans are coming up with will ultimately help us solve the problems animals are facing in the wild.”  – Gabriel Packard, Founder of Be1 & Be1 Foundation.

Humanity’s accomplishments in science and technology in the past 100 years are remarkable, though some areas of enquiry have lagged behind. We know more about space than ever before, for example, but we have failed to fully document all the animal species here on Earth, some of which are disappearing before they’ve been fully studied by scientists. This reality is partly what motivated Gabriel Packard to use cutting-edge technology to help to protect threatened species of wild bees.

Gabriel Packard is the Founder and CEO of Be1, a data visualization startup, whose nonprofit Be1 Foundation, is cataloging every species of wild bee in North America using 3D video game technology.

Gabriel describes himself as both an innovator and a lover of animals. “I’ve always loved animals and enjoyed learning about them,” says Gabriel. “When I was a child, I saved up my pocket money and sent small donations to the WWF and RSPCA (the British equivalent of the ASPCA) and became a junior member. I hoped one day to help animals somehow.”

Extinction of Species Around the World

The rate at which animal species are declining around the world is alarming. For example, the average rate of decrease in population of vertebrates between 1970 and 2016 reached an astonishing 68%, according to the Living Planet Report 2020 by WWF.

This report also states that one in three freshwater species are in danger of extinction, and their population has decreased 84% since 1970. In addition, more than 2,000 species of amphibians are threatened with extinction. 

Further, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species indicates that there are more than 42,100 species threatened with extinction which comprise: 42% of amphibians, 37% of sharks and rays, 27% of mammals, 28% of crustaceans, 21% of reptiles, 13% of birds, and 36% of reef corals, as well as 69% of cycads and 34% of conifers.

“Humans have done a lot of great things in the world, but we haven’t really done a great job of protecting every animal species,” says Gabriel. “All species — from the white rhino to the tardigrade — play an important role, and it’s crucial we preserve them all.”

Using Technology to Help Protect Threatened Species

Gabriel started researching wild bees in 2019 and was alarmed to discover that – although bees are a keystone part of the food chain, pollinating many of our food crops – many of the world’s 20,000 bee species are threatened. 

As he continued to learn more, his data visualization startup, Be1, drew on innovations in data visualization, artificial intelligence and video game architecture to develop a unique approach to species preservation. This year, Be1’s nonprofit organization, Be1 Foundation, will begin applying this technology to wild bees, as a pilot study, funded in part by a grant from The Pollination Project. 

“Be1 Foundation is using video game technology to help preserve every species of wild bee in North America,” explains Gabriel. “This will help collate research on wild bees, making it more readily available to experts and to the general public.”

Be1 Foundation is working with leading bee research institutes, such as the U.S. Geological Survey’s Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory.

“By consulting with scientists and asking them what would help their important work, we aim to help them to protect wild bees. And by using video game technology, we hope to engage a younger audience, by offering a fun way to learn about and protect all bee species – not just the well-known ones. Having the widest group of the public understand and care about bee species is one useful step in protecting them.”

Visualizing Bee Information in 3D and 2D

Be1 comprises two software engineers (one video game engineer and one artificial intelligence engineer), one cloud server expert, one database/API developer, and one 3D animator, as well as an advisory team that includes experts in technology, artificial intelligence, business, and entertainment.  

Be1 Foundation’s bee information will not only be accessible via a 3D game environment, it will also be viewable as a 2D encyclopedia website. After its bee species pilot project, Be1 Foundation aims to add other animal species that users can explore in 2D or 3D visual environments. “Users will explore and enjoy the information,” says Gabriel, “learning, as they go.” 

“Animal species have the potential to be just as ‘collectible’ and engaging as characters in video games such as Pokemon Go,” Gabriel says. “And gamers are very hardworking people. They do a tremendous amount of work in the video game world, building fictional cities, completing fictional quests, or creating entire fictional worlds. What if gamers had the option to use that same energy and work ethic in pursuit of impacting the animal world as well — all the enjoyment of a video game environment, while helping wild animals?”

While looking to fund the Be1 Foundation’s pilot project on North American wild bee species, Gabriel remembered that he had come across The Pollination Project while helping a friend restore monarch butterfly habitats in California.

“It was serendipity that I found The Pollination Project,” says Gabriel. “Be1 Foundation applied, and when we received the grant, we were thrilled, because this helps us fund our pilot study and validates our approach. It’s a tragedy when any animal species becomes extinct. The species we still have, all of them are precious, and it’s time to use every technology at our disposal to keep them around.”

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