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3 Compromises You Make with Every GPS Tracking Device

October 30th, 2017

In the 1970’s wildlife biologists didn’t have much choice when it came to GPS tracking devices. They could purchase a VHF transmitter that was either big and heavy or big and heavy. Fast forward almost 50 years. Choices for GPS tracking devices for wildlife biologists are abundant. There are many different technologies that can be used and within each of those technologies there are lots of combinations of technology to choose from. On top of that you still have the many manufacturers to choose from, all of whom have their own way.

But we all still have to live within the bounds of what is physically possible. Your choices each come with a price. You can think of those choices in terms of compromises that you will make. But if you do your research up front you’ll stand a good chance of getting a product that really suits your need.

The big three choices still revolve around 1) total product weight, 2) overall battery life and 3) performance. I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know here. Battery size affects total weight. Battery life is tied into the battery size. The performance you expect (number of GPS per day/data download range, etc) is usually within your power to control so that’s another choice.

I feel for the biologist tasked with determining which product is best for her wildlife tracking project. You may become very frustrated with all of the choices and nuances within each product line. On top of that you need to compare products from different manufacturers. And you probably don’t have sufficient time to devote to this task because you’re already doing the work of 2 or 3 people. Just remember, the big three compromises are still with us. Take everything you learn with a grain of salt because it is within your power to decide which compromise you are going to make to get to the correct product for your project.

How a New Wildlife GPS Product is Born

October 13th, 2017

Wildlife Conservation and Capitalism

Products and services only exist if a market exists, a pretty simple concept. For us new product development centers around this notion, someone has to want the product. Months ago I spoke with a group of biologists about our products and within minutes we knew we didn’t have a match. Our new wildlife GPS tracking devices did not suit their research needs. But we dug deeper, we kept talking and I learned the client’s true purpose as well as the challenges they faced.

Automatic wildlife GPS data collection at low cost

I learned that they had to have GPS. Transmitters were not going to achieve their goal. And they needed an automated wildlife tracking system. They did not have sufficient human resources to go into the field and collect the GPS data. They were not working with endangered species. There was no invasive species in the picture. No animal to human disease transmission. But they did have to figure out the answer to a problem having to do with human/wildlife conflict. The conflict was real and human lives were being put at risk.

The bottom line was that they required a lot of wildlife GPS. Transmitters, again, were not sufficient but GPS were too expensive. They needed a low cost GPS for wildlife research. I decided to be blunt and ask them how much they could afford. I wasn’t trying to be coy or sly, I was trying to find a solution. When they thought about the problem for a minute they had their answer. As it turns out we were able to find a way to solve their issue at a price they could afford.

Solve the pain and make the sale

I was flying home, thinking about what had transpired, I realized there were more biologists who could use a low cost wildlife GPS tracking device. But it had to fit their needs, maybe it had to be a custom wildlife GPS device but also at low cost. When I got home I called an old customer to ask what he thought of the idea. As it turns out he had a need for a tiny GPS for bats. So we kicked that around for a few weeks and a new product was born from just two conversations.

It is a GPS data logger with long range transceiver and a fully automated data collection system. We kept the price down and added several features that might prove useful. If a motion activated GPS for wildlife tracking needs to be part of this equation it isn’t a problem. If the client needs the GPS to record activity data then we can do that. We built it to suit a lot of different wildlife needs but at a very good price.

Capitalism may have its faults but for us, this is how new products come to market.

Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Wildlife Research – pros and cons

October 18th, 2016

Aircraft Systems in Wildlife Research

The reason that I want to address this now is that Telemetry Solutions has a GPS wildlife tracking system that is compatible with small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) usage. For many there could be a real advantage to using an aircraft systems in wildlife research, especially with small animals that are low to the ground and wearing a GPS collar. Our new product has a very long range autonomous data transmission feature to a base station. The base station collects data without a human operator and weighs less than 100 grams. Many sUAS systems can lift the base station and carry it for a relatively extended period of time. But how, exactly, can this help you? Since the data transmission method is by radio, a line of sight from the GPS device to the base station must be established in order for a data transmission to occur successfully. The simplest use for the sUAS is to lift the base station to gain elevation over the subject carrying the GPS device. With a proper line of sight and all conditions optimized for data transmission the maximum download range is 25 kilometers. The base station downloads data from all of your GPS devices within range and it does so automatically. Even very small animals can carry the GPS device associated with this download range. So sUAS can gain height over the animal and help to maximize data download range to save you time and effort in the field.

However, in The United States, the Federal Aviation Administration has created rules governing the commercial use of sUAS. You may argue that wildlife research is not commercial. The opposing categorization (from the FAA point of view) is someone who is flying a sUAS as a hobby.

Two of the most obvious limitations created by The FAA rules are that you may operate the sUAS only within visual line of sight and you may not operate it more than 400 feet above the ground or 400 feet above the platform from which you are operating. In addition you must obtain a remote pilot airman certificate with a sUAS rating or be directly supervised by a person who holds the certificate. Within class B,C,D and E airspace you must notify ATC (Air Traffic Control) about your activity. All of this and you may not operation in a TFR area (Temporary Flight Restriction) and these can pop up anytime at anyplace so you need to be aware of them. A TFR can be created due to a wildfire or security event or other special situations. You may not fly the sUAS over a person that is not associated with your task.

On top of all of this you have to learn how to operate a sUAS and it is easier for some than others. Don’t expect to just grab and go and not lose your sUAS. In the sUAS world there is a saying that you should not “purchase a system that you are not willing to watch fly away never to be seen again.” In my personal experience youth plays some role in this ability. On my first day as an operator, my sUAS spent the night in a pine tree….high up in a pine tree. Much younger folks in my office took to it like a duck to water.

There is another option. That is to hire a company that has the sUAS and certifcations and will fly their sUAS for you at your sight. However expect to pay a lot of money for this service, it would probably cost less to just hire a manned aircraft.

Hopefully with this new information you can start to decide if aircraft systems in wildlife research is right for you. Either way, Telemetry Solutions can offer you custom equipment whether you’re on the ground, in the air, or underwater.

-Quintin Kermeen

Tracking via………..internet?

December 18th, 2015

Last week we shipped a few tracking devices to Australia for crocodiles. They report position from any place on planet…… email. They have arrived in Australia and started taking positions from there. I just received an email that stated, “This position is 12,635 km from previous position” How scary is that? Anyone can be tracked without them knowing. Once saw a shipment in a FedEx truck…….saw his exact route before he delivered the package to my client. Freaky

What to ask when purchasing wildlife GPS equipment

April 3rd, 2015

If you are a first time buyer in the market for GPS tracking devices for wildlife research you might have discovered by now that you have many choices when it comes to suppliers. There is no shortage of supply, new companies appear and old ones go away, this market is in a state of flux. That should be one of your primary concerns, how long has a company been in business? Will they be there when you need them?

You may also want to consider the location of the company you choose. While it is not too difficult to transport equipment over vast distances, what about customer support? Will you be getting customer support in a timely manner or is your vendor just wrapping up their work day when you are just starting yours, or vice versa?

Think about whether or not you are willing to use GPS tracking devices that are off the shelf with little choice of nuance or are they custom made for the species you are working with?

Ask how long the product has been in production. This is a double edged sword. While it is desirable to have a long history of successful field work done with a particular type of GPS collar or GPS backpack that may mean that the technology has been surpassed by something better. On the other hand, if a wildlife GPS design is brand new will you be buying a reliable product? Can the vendor supply you with references who you can speak to before buying?

Is there enough information about the product available online? Are there video tutorials and FAQs so that you can help yourself when you run into the inevitable difficulty?

Of course you have to be able to afford the equipment but what is the point of buying something for a low price if it isn’t the right tracking device? And don’t forget when thinking about price that most manufacturers do not offer refurbishment services for small GPS collars and GPS backpacks. Refurbishment at Telemetry Solutions is offered on everything and at a fraction of the cost of a new device. Therefore you can fairly amortize the equipment cost over multiple years.

purchasing wildlife GPS equipment