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Guide to available technologies for wildlife tracking, Part 1.

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.

Wildlife tracking – new developments at Telemetry Solutions

August 24th, 2010

Satellite communication in our GPS collars, improved connectivity in our UHF wireless communication collars, an automatic remote data download system for any animal no matter the size, camouflaged collars, neutrally buoyant GPS data loggers for penguins, a GPS data logger under 4 grams total weight, tiny solar powered GPS pods with remote download, simplified user controls for triggering remote download by UHF….now it’s just one click, and a solar GPS eartag with remote download in development for grizzly bears and the list goes on.   These are all things that we have been working on for the past few months. While that information in and of itself may not be interesting enough to put into a blog, we think that these technologies will be greatly beneficial to anyone who uses GPS data loggers in their wildlife conservation work.  There is no rest for the wicked though, we have more slated for release before Christmas.

Catch us at The First Annual Seabird Conference in Victoria in September and at The Wildlife Society Conference in Snowbird in October.

Quintin

Where is wildlife telemetry headed?

July 20th, 2010

In 1979 I worked at a company that made VHF transmitters for wildlife. That was about 20 years removed from the start of all of this wildlife telemetry business and even then people talked about “remember when.”   Everything had gotten so much smaller by the late 70s, it was impressive. Fast forward to 2008.  Wow, we made a small GPS data logger, the electronics only weighed 15 grams.  By 2009 the weight was down to 2.5 grams.  That was mostly just us getting better at what we do rather than some leap in technology.  Now we’re halfway through 2010 and our lightest GPS data logger electronics (without battery) weighs only 1.3 grams.

But where is this taking us?  What else can we do?  There isn’t much more room for weight reduction.  I think that the direction we are headed in is more sensors that will work in conjunction with the GPS and more automated data collection systems even on the lightest devices.  Where do you want this technology to be in another year? Think about it and let me know.

Quintin

Solar GPS pod with remote data download option

July 15th, 2010

120 Grams

Get a load of our newest solar powered application.  The concept of our GPS pod design has been pretty well received and our solar GPS data loggers with remote download are working great too so we combined the ideas and came up with the solar pod!

Big deal right?  What is it anyway?  What does it do for you?  Well I’ll tell you what it does, if you study animals that live in sunshine and are big enough to handle a 400 gram collar go grab one of your VHF collars.  Doesn’t matter who made that collar, just go get it.  Now how much did you pay for that collar?  A lot less than a GPS collar I bet. But wouldn’t it be nice if you could take that collar in your hand and just bolt something onto the top of it and turn it into a remote download GPS collar that can acquire a GPS location every 5 minutes, transmit that data to you and weigh less than 120 grams?  The weight is important so it won’t flip your collar upside down.

This has none of the large lithium batteries that are normally found in a GPS unit.  Not green enough for you?  Ok, so how much do you add to your carbon footprint every time you go out looking for your study animals?  You drive there right?  Or do you fly? Forget it.  Just take our automatic remote download station and deploy it in an area where you know your study animals will pass by.  Input the collar addresses that you want the station to search for, hook up power and leave.   It will collect and store that data for you so you can just go out and dump it all onto a flash drive or whatever.  Then mosey back to your office and have at it.   Not good enough either?  Want to be greener than this?  Check back soon to find out where we’re taking this.

Tracking wildlife affected by the gulf oil spill

June 30th, 2010

The oil spill has created a massive number of problems and it will obviously take a long time to identify them let along do something about them. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that birds are being hard hit.  While it is easy to see the damage to birds on the shore what about the birds out at sea?  What’s going on with them? Can they even forage in the same place as before?  Our newest GPS data loggers for seabirds have a solution that identifies seabird foraging behavior and switches the GPS positioning schedule from the infrequent GPS location attempts with in straight flight to 1 second GPS location attempts while foraging.  Because the GPS data loggers are so light it is important to save the battery for use when it is really needed.

Quintin