Czech company Dronetag has released a low power drone tracking solution that can be attached to any drone to promote flight safety and compliance with new European regulations. The ‘Dronetag Mini’ is based on Nordic’s nRF9160 low power System-in-Package (SiP) with integrated LTE-M/NB-IoT modem and GNSS, in combination with the nRF52833 Bluetooth® Low Energy (Bluetooth LE) System-on-Chip (SoC), providing dual cellular IoT and Bluetooth LE wireless connectivity for reporting the exact position and identification of drones in flight. With the capability to monitor a fleet of drones, the Dronetag Mini can support a range of potential drone applications, for example delivery services requiring multiple concurrent trips, or drone shows and drone fleets where multiple drones are sharing the same airspace at the same time.
The 54 by 35 by 15mm Dronetag Mini weighs only 30g, and can be unobtrusively attached to drones of any size. In flight, the device employs GNSS signals to determine the exact position of the drone, and relays that data to the ‘Dronetag’ web app via the Cloud using the nRF9160 SiP’s cellular connectivity. This ensures the drone and its flight plan is visible both to airspace authorities and other pilots, and enables the user to track the drone in near real time.
Alternatively the data can be transmitted to the Dronetag smartphone app on a user’s Bluetooth 4.0 (and later) smartphone using Bluetooth LE or Bluetooth 5 Long Range connectivity provided by the nRF52833 SoC. The SoC’s 2.4GHz multiprotocol radio features 8dBm output power and -96 dBm RX sensitivity for a link budget of 104dBm. This enables Dronetag Mini to achieve a broadcasting range of up to 1.5km to the user’s smartphone. In addition to the drone’s position, the Dronetag Mini reports the drone’s speed and atmospheric pressure data using integrated accelerometer and barometer sensors, as well as the device’s battery level and LTE-M signal strength, and operator identification information.
Dronetag Mini is powered by a 500mAh rechargeable Li-Poly battery, providing between eight and 14 hours of battery life between recharge depending on the settings. This endurance is thanks in part to the ultra low power characteristics of the Nordic solutions. Both the nRF9160 and nRF52833 have been engineered to minimize power consumption with a fully-automatic power management systems and power saving features.
The nRF9160 is a low power SiP certified for global cellular IoT applications, comprising a dedicated 64MHz Arm® Cortex®-M33 application processor with 1MB Flash and 256kB RAM, multimode LTE-M/NB-IoT modem with integrated RF Front End (RFFE), GNSS, and power management. The highly integrated, ‘single chip’ solution measures just 10 by 16 by 1mm, supporting miniaturized designs with space and weight limitations such as the Dronetag Mini.
Related products include the nRF9160 DK, a precertified single board development kit and the nRF Connect SDK [Software Development Kit], which includes application layer protocols, application examples, and LTE modem firmware offered as precertified and precompiled downloads. The nRF Connect SDK supports the Zephyr RTOS ecosystem to streamline the development process.
“We selected the nRF9160 SiP because we needed the LTE-M modem and processor in one package to save space and simplify the board design,” says Lukáš Brchl, CEO of Dronetag. “In the case of the nRF52833 SoC we required a solution offering Bluetooth 5 Long Range with substantial RAM and Flash memory at an affordable price.
“We also appreciated the great support from Nordic during development, and consider the Zephyr RTOS to be state-of-the-art in the IoT embedded world.”