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MCE 501 – INTRODUCTION TO ROBOTICS

TRACKING OF A KNOWN ANIMAL
To determine the behaviour and location of wild & Electronic tags can now weigh
domesticated animals, they need to be monitored in some way. less than a penny, can transmit
Radio tracking technology can help determine exactly where for more than 10 years, and can be
attached to almost any species, at
an animal is at any moment in time and often what that animal
any life stage—allowing the
is doing – by making use of accelerometers. Using data monitoring of organisms whose
collected from tracking devices; the day-to-day movements of habitats range from the poles to
an animal, the size of an animal’s home range, what other the tropics and the photic zone to
the abyssal depths.
animals share an animal’s range, and the habitat type of an
animal can be determined. Typically, to be able to detect animals remotely, an electronic tracking
device (or tag) is attached to the animal.

The development of biotelemetry 1 began in the early 1960s with the advent of very high frequency
(VHF) tracking. Satellite tracking followed in the early 1970s when a single elk (Cervus
canadensis) was tracked using a transmitter linked to the Interrogation, Recording and Location
System (IRLS) on board the NIMBUS 3 satellite – originally designed to monitor geophysical,
oceanographic and meteorological data. Subsequently, satellite transmitters have made use of the
ARGOS (C.L.S, Ramonville Saint-Agne, France) satellite system. Animal tracking using Global
Positioning System (GPS) technology began its development in the early 1990s in response to
researchers’ need to collect fine-scale location data for far-ranging species.

VHF2 RADIO TRACKING
VHF tracking was first used in 1963. In order to use VHF radio tracking, a radio transmitter is
placed on the animal. Usually, the animal is first sedated. While the animal is asleep, the scientists
gather information about the health and condition of the animal. Once placed on the animal, it
begins transmitting a radio signal periodically to a radio antenna and receiver. The position of the
animal can be determined using triangulation. Triangulation involves taking bearings (heading
angle relative to North) to the tracking device from multiple locations – the position of the animal
can be deduced to be at the intersection of two or more bearings. Radio transmitters could be only
used on larger animals due to the fairly large size, but improvements in technology have allowed
for the production of smaller transmitters that can be attached to small animals. Modern-day tags
are light and inexpensive and can be swallowed by the animal or placed under its skin, but the
tracking process is labour intensive which is a significant contributor to the cost of the study. There
is a possibility of bias introduced through habitat disturbance since the researcher needs to be in

1biotelemetry: the remote detection and measurement of a human or animal function, activity, or condition (such as
heart rate or body temperature). Source: Definition by Merriam-Webster
biotelemetry involves the application of telemetry in biology, medicine, and other health care to remotely monitor
various vital signs of ambulatory patients. Source: Wikipedia
2 VHF – Very High Frequency (30 to 300 megahertz)

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In addition. from small to large. but they can also relay telemetric (sensor) data. often with errors in the region of a few hundred metres. Location accuracy can also be quite poor. making them especially useful for migratory species. satellite tracking allows animals to be located globally and the position to be known within a few hours of reception at the satellite. position is inferred from the Doppler shift of the carrier wave received at the satellite. and was first used in 1994. Unlike the two prior methods. With satellite tracking. However. These data may be stored pending recovery of the device or relayed to a central data store or internet-connected computer using an embedded cellular (GPRS4).2 g) SPACE BASED TRACKING OR SATELLITE TRACKING Space based tracking. harness. or direct attachment or as implants) which is used to determine the animal’s position by determining the time-of-flight from multiple satellites. More recent systems alter the pulse rate of the VHF signal in relation to some measured parameter. However. 5 UHF – Ultra-High Frequency (300 to 3000 megahertz) 2 . U$3000 each) and annual data processing fees have to be paid (ca. 3 telemetry involves automatic transmission and measurement of data from remote sources by wire or radio or other means 4 General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) is a packet oriented mobile data service on the 2G and 3G cellular communication system's global system for mobile communications (GSM). in particular using the ARGOS system (launched in 1978) allows researchers to automatically determine the position of animals anywhere in the world. unlike VHF tracking. GPS TRACKING Using GPS tracking persons can remotely observe relatively fine-scale movement or migratory patterns in free-ranging animals using the Global Positioning System and optional environmental sensors or automated data-retrieval technologies such as ARGOS satellite uplink. As the signal has to be strong enough to be received in space. as the tags can be made very small (the lightest tag currently available is 0. UHF5. scientists do not have to be near the animal to pick up its signal.the field to obtain tracking data. Small amounts of telemetry3 data can also be uploaded to the satellite. U$3000–U$5000). mobile data telephony or GPRS and a range of analytical software tools. such as temperature. not only can an animal’s location be determined using VHF tracking. satellite tracking devices are consequently larger than VHF tags (the smallest tag available is 15 g and solar powered). approximate position can be determined. From this data. Satellite tracking bears much similarity to VHF radio tracking. ARGOS tags are expensive (ca. A GPS-enabled device will normally record and store location data at a pre-determined interval or on interrupt by an environmental sensor. Thus. This method provides excellent spatial accuracy (typically < 5 m) with a high sampling rate (up to 4 Hz). the animal is equipped with a receiver (by collar. VHF tracking is now suitable for monitoring a wide range of species.

The location is then transferred to the researcher by using one of the data-download methods mentioned above. The accuracy of each location point is assessed and assigned one of several location classes (LC). This formally precluded their use on smaller animals. store. the accuracy levels are LC A and B (no estimation accuracy) or LC Z (invalid location). Description acquisition method GPS GPS tracking devices receive transmissions from a constellation of ~24 satellites located at 20 000km above the earth (NAVSTAR). ARGOS A platform transmitter terminal (PTT) transmits a pulse detected by Argos polar-orbiting satellites located 800 km above the earth. The tracking solution could also consist of a connected health tracker which provides constant monitoring of animal temperature and other vital signs. manage. and present spatial or geographic data.radio. Signals can also be acquired using an automatic VHF tower. 1000m for LC 1 and >1000 m for LC 0. or satellite modem. 350 m for LC 2. This method provides a variable accuracy dependent on local conditions. a vehicle or on foot. instruments used and the skill of the operators to acquire locations. analyse. The power consumption of a GPS receiver results in a large tag for long deployments (~500 g for a tracking device that can take 24 fixes a day for a year). manipulate. When three or fewer messages are received by the satellite. using a GIS6 package or custom software. calories being burnt. Table 1: Description of Tracking Methods Location. The standard deviation of positional error in latitudinal and longitudinal axes is claimed to be 150 m for LC 3. These signals are located by a researcher by using an antenna and receiver from a plane. The animal's location can then be plotted against a map or chart in near real-time or. and general well- being of the known animal. Precision of 200–600 m has been reported for locations of VHF devices acquired via triangulation and homing. but today there are solar powered GPS receivers small enough to be attached to a bird. The location of the animal is calculated manually when the researcher triangulates multiple bearings or visually sights the animal or automatically using a VHF tower. GPS provides a location accuracy of <5 m. 3 . VHF VHF transmitters emit a radio-frequency signal. The satellite passes over the PTT and has ~10 min to receive the frequency data (Doppler effect) and time stamps required. These data are then downlinked and processed at the Argos processing centres and locations calculated. when analysing the track later. The location is transferred to the researcher using the Argos system. When four or more satellites are in view. 6Geographic Information System (GIS) is a system designed to capture.