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Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Wildlife Research – pros and cons

Tuesday, 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

GPS data loggers for wildlife, how far have we come?

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

I started working with GPS collars for wildlife in 1997, 17 years ago….ouch.  For those of you too young to remember, back then GPS wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is now.  For example, we had the choice to set up the GPS timeout at up to 240 seconds!  GPS timeout is the length of time that a GPS is allowed to remain on before being forced to shut off even if it had not acquired satellites and calculated a position by then.

Really, 240 seconds?  That ate up a lot of battery but it was a choice.  Here is what 17 years have yielded…..our newest GPS product will have a timeout option as low as 10 seconds and can be deployed in such a way that the first 3 days of use will always result in hot starts.  Hot starts occur when a GPS receiver has ephemeris data that allow it to know where the GPS satellites are in the sky.  The result is GPS positions sometimes taking as little as 1 second to calculate.  Normally to have hot starts one needs to keep the GPS receiving turning on very frequently.  But this is no longer strictly true.  With a new feature we are including in our FLR II GPS data logger you will be able to deploy with 3 days worth of ephemeris data stored in the GPS data logger.

I have sort of mixed my topics here……there is much more to be said about the 10 second GPS timeout that does not really relate to the ephemeris data but I think I’ll save it for a future post.  For now suffice it to say that we are going to have some very long battery life estimates for GPS devices that weigh in the single digits and part of this will be due to the fact that we are able to use the 10 second GPS timeout when before it would have been much more difficult.

Updates on GPS satellite collars for bears in Mongolia.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

In May 2011, I blogged about our first Iridium collars for bears shipped to Mongolia for field tests. The test ended in June and the performance of the collars was excellent as we saw the data online using our website page. In addition to the repeat order from the customer who participated in the field test, now we have the Mongolian government placing an order after having trouble with their Argos GPS made by another company. If you would like to learn more about our satellite collars, please visit http://telemetrysolutions.com/track-wildlife/satellite-communication.php

GPS Wildlife Telemetry Tips, Tricks and Tools

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

I may have mentioned this before, I’m amazed at the quantity of GPS wildlife telemetry products available on the market. And I don’t envy potential new users the task of trying to determine which is right for them. Not only will you need to sort that out but after that there are many things you will need to know that will increase your level of success with your new equipment. But who has the time to become an expert in another new field? No fear, I made a CD to get you started on that path. It’s only $12.99 on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/GPS-Wildlife-Telemetry-Quintin-Kermeen/dp/B004VF6EGE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1314717510&sr=8-1

Quintin

Time to reconsider a long held belief about wildlife tracking collars?

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Since before I became involved in the business of manufacturing electronics for wildlife research (1979) it has been widely accepted that most mammals are fine carrying an additional 5% of their body weight in the form of a tracking device.  Why is this accepted?  Is it because that for the last 40 years animals generally survive a few years wearing a collar that heavy?  Is that a good reason to accept this 5% limit?  I don’t think so.

When I communicate with potential GPS collar users there is a trend for the inquirer to request a product that maximizes battery life and maximizes the number of GPS positions possible from the product in question.  That makes perfect sense, the more data the better.  But it’s time to think about not maximizing the weight based on this old fashioned 5% rule.  I have a dog that weighs 5 kg.  Using the 5% rule she should be fine carrying a 250 gram collar.  I think that’s totally insane and not just because she’s my pet dog.  That is too much weight and too much bulk.  It’s 2011 not 1971, let’s start getting these weights down, the technology is there, it’s just a matter of changing a widely held and old fashioned belief.

Quintin