Lightweight animal tracker uses Nordic-enabled cellular IoT to monitor small species

Cellular Tracking Technologies

Cellular Tracking Technologies’ FlickerGPS and FlickerCL employ Nordic nRF9160 SiP for wildlife-to-Cloud connectivity

Wildlife telemetry solutions provider, Cellular Tracking Technologies, has developed a lightweight tracker primarily designed for monitoring the migration patterns of species weighing as little as 75 grams (g). In North America, the company has already deployed these trackers on species that were previously too small to carry anything other than digital radio devices. Such species include the American Robin, Green Jay, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Northern Saw-whet Owl. Plans are underway to use this technology in other consumer applications requiring lightweight trackers.

Ultra compact package

Both versions of the animal tracker, ‘FlickerGPS’ and ‘FlickerCL (CellLocate)’, come in a compact form factor—the smallest version weighs approximately 2.5 g—with the transmitter generally weighing below 3 percent of a tracked bird's weight so as to not impact its natural behavior.

The battery- and solar-powered devices feature a 3-axis accelerometer for detecting mortality, providing a general level of activity (not moving or moving significantly), and providing the customer with raw X,Y,Z measurements. Algorithms can also be deployed to identify specific animal behaviors like roosting, flight, and foraging.

The nRF9160 is currently the lightest and smallest LTE-M modem on the market and does not require an extra host microcontroller
Sheldon Blackshire, Cellular Tracking Technologies

“The FlickerGPS and FlickerCL leverage a whole new suite of tools enabling the study of animal movement and behavior at a spatial and temporal scale previously unattainable for a wide range of smaller species,” says Sheldon Blackshire, Chief Technology Officer, Cellular Tracking Technologies.

The Nordic nRF9160 low power SiP with integrated LTE-M/NB-IoT modem and GNSS performs as the main processor for the integrated sensors. The nRF9160 is a highly integrated device comprising a 64 MHz Arm® Cortex®-M33 application processor, generous Flash and RAM, modem, PMIC, GNSS, and RF front end in a miniaturized package, making it ideal for even the most space-constrained applications. The nRF9160 SiP provides the GNSS positioning and cellular IoT connectivity that allows the location and behavioral data of the animal to be relayed to the Cloud.

Accurate location data

FlickerGPS and FlickerCL deploy Nordic’s nRF Cloud Location Services – a set of commercially available features that can be used to assist devices and customer applications that need fast and power-efficient location details. As an added safety precaution to support the GNSS positioning, single and multicell locations are used to periodically resolve an approximate location of the tagged animal.

Users can either review captured data from a web-based data portal or via the ‘CTT Flicker’ iOS app. From the app or web platform the user can see where the animal is on a map, view sensor data through a series of charts, as well as update device configurations over-the-air.

“We selected Nordic’s nRF9160 SiP for our solution due to its compact form factor and excellent power consumption,” says Blackshire. “The nRF9160 is currently the lightest and smallest LTE-M modem on the market and does not require an extra host microcontroller. This allowed us to make a very compact PCB which ultimately contributed to developing such a lightweight device. The low power consumption allowed us to use smaller batteries and solar panels.”