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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

Spinal surgery and GPS collars for wildlife

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Today I was in a conversation with one of America’s premier back surgeons.  We were talking about patients whose lives are completely transformed (for the better)  by back surgery.  He suggested that it’s all about patient selection.  He said that spinal surgery has gotten a bad reputation but it’s because operations are often performed on patients who don’t fit the criteria for a good outcome.

GPS collars seem to fit this pattern as well.  Not all projects using GPS collars on wild animals will have a good outcome and sometimes this is because the animal in question just isn’t a good fit for the technology.  Being that I make my income manufacturing GPS collars for wildlife projects this may seem like a strange thing for me to say but it’s true.  When the criteria for a good outcome are not met it’s the responsibility of the vendor to enlighten the potential user to this.  But the user must also bear the responsibility for undertaking a certain amount of “experimentation” when the decision is made to put a GPS collar on a wild animal. 

This is a conversation worth having.  Think about it and talk about it with your collar vendor and the potential for a good outcome will most likely improve.

Quintin Kermeen

GPS collars in Mongolia sending GPS data via satellite to www

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

In anticipation of the release of our latest GPS collar we have sent two collars to researchers working with bears in Mongolia.  The question was whether or not the collars could transmit GPS data via satellite from that location.  There is no reason to believe that they would not but the proof is in the pudding.  So we programmed the collars to transmit new GPS positions from memory every 8 hours.  The data modem that we are using is made by Iridium and uses their low orbit satellite constellation to transmit information.  The product is deployed for tests only at this time, released for sale after completion of our field tests.

Quintin

Guide to available technologies for wildlife tracking, Part 1.

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

My company, Telemetry Solutions, does a lot of business with universities and people who are new to wildlife tracking so I have started this series to educate potential new users of wildlife tracking technologies.  The intention here is to save you time at the beginning telemetry learning experience and to help guide you to the appropriate technology for your wildlife research project.

The most prolific tracking equipment in wildlife studies is VHF transmitters.  They have been around since the ‘60s.  Wildlife biologists continue to use them by tracking the VHF signal with a VHF receiver and directional antenna. These are labor intensive devices that are most often tracked manually. The flip side to their labor intensive nature is that they are inexpensive so if you have a lot of cheap labor and very little money they are the obvious choice. 

There is another technology called PIT tags.  These utilize a tiny transponder and are most often used for fish.  Because the PIT tag has no power source and derives its power from the device that registers or reads it, the tag has to pass through a field containing the power.  The field is created by the reader coupled with an antenna and has very short range.  For fish traveling either up or down stream it’s perfect as one can set up the antenna system either on shore or over the river and when the fish passes by a data logger can record that event.  These probably have little usefulness on terrestrial animal projects.

Moving on to a more high tech device we come to the PTT tags.  These are satellite transmitters that utilize an old and small satellite communication system called ARGOS.  ARGOS has been around since the ‘70s.  While the transmitters have gotten smaller the number of satellites in orbit remains small and that means that the user has only certain windows of opportunity in which data can be sent from the transmitter to the satellite.  These PTT tags, in their rawest form, are merely satellite transmitters.  However a hybrid system has developed that utilizes the ARGOS system to relay GPS position data stored in a collar.  Please don’t confuse ARGOS with GPS, the only thing they have in common is that they both utilize satellites, the similarities end there.  ARGOS tends to be a rather expensive system to use in that one has monthly subscription fees to pay while the study is ongoing. 

Another system is GPS.  GPS is a global satellite system that transmits signals down to the earth all the time.  There are usually over 20 operational GPS satellites in orbit at any given time. Each satellite contains two atomic clocks so that there is a precise time stamp on every signal sent from the satellite.  As the position of the satellite in space is known, the time the signal is sent is known and the speed at which that signal travels is known, a GPS receiver can calculate position by triangulation of the signals received from the satellites.  Signals from at least 3 satellites must be received in order for the GPS receiver to generate a position.  The GPS receiver is the device that the animal carries. GPS has been around since the ‘70s too but it wasn’t until the ‘80s that it became a platform available for commercial use.  There are no subscription fees associated with the GPS satellite system, it comes to the world for free through the generosity of Uncle Sam.

In Part 2, I will complete this list and begin to elaborate on other options associated with each.  For now you can find more information on our website at www.telemetrysolutions.com or by searching for our YouTube videos using the search term telemetry solutions on the YouTube search engine.