Internet of Animals

whales IoT internet of animals

Designed by military contractors, first widely used by academic communities, now connecting most of humans on the planet, the Internet also has other groups of users. There is a growing number of various “things”— from meters, sensors, cars, remote machinery to internet-connected shoes or umbrellas. And somewhere in between there are also animals. Some of them are on the net longer than today’s teenagers.

Tracking cows or sheep running happily on the fields in some remote area may utilise existing ground-based cellular networks (like 2G, 3G, 4G) or their IoT-oriented extensions (like NB-IoT). But whales in the middle of the ocean or birds flying over seas or deserts need a different approach.

The start of Internet of Animals

Back in the 80s of the previous century, a satellite-based system called Argos, a joint French-US project, was launched to allow tracking marine mammals, sea turtles and also to handle reports from remote automatic weather stations. It is used in a number of international scientific projects, involving over 100 countries, not only to track swimming animals, but also provide data, e.g., about ocean currents. From the technical side of the system, the remarkable idea is to use the Doppler effect to determine the location of the source of transmission.

A new company, Kineis, will soon take over operation of the Argos system. The company also plans to put around 20 small nano-satellites into orbit and increase the current number of Argos transmitters (“beacons”) from about 22000 to 50 or 100 times more in the next decade. Compared to original Argos beacons, which were quite big and heavy (a whale could carry it, but even a large flock of birds would have trouble lifting one into the air) the Kineis radio modules are quite tiny (7 by 7 millimetres) allowing “installation” on smaller animals and also other objects which need to communicate from deserted, remote areas.

Tracking bees

Meanwhile The ICARUS Initiative (short for International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space), which used to track bird migrations using satellite images, starts using small, solar-powered transmitters sending signals to the ISS. The International Space Station is significantly closer (320 km) to Earth’s surface than Argos satellites (850 km) which allows the beacons to be tiny and very light (few grams). The ICARUS project director believes that in the near future they can be small enough to attach to a bee. The main processing unit arrived at the ISS over a year ago while the antennas were delivered in a Soyuz rocket in early 2018.

Tracking of the animals provides a lot of scientific input to extend our knowledge about the planet we share with a lot of other species, but also allow scientists to map ocean floor, catch poachers, track diseases, find where, how and why the animals die. Some animals can anticipate earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis which has a more direct and immediate impact on humans – Mount Etna eruption was predicted couple of hours in advance by observing movements of the goats on the slope of the volcano.

With more and more systems and more and more animals equipped with some transmitting devices, soon we will need to be careful, for example, when trying to kill an annoying mosquito that has bitten you – it may send a distress signal via satellite before it dies.

Until next time,

The Apis Team

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