The University of Washington recently released a technology that will be of great help to researchers who track the social activities of birds and animals. The latest telemetry system is called Encounternet, and comes with the combination of digital radio tags on animals with sturdy wireless base stations.
Dr. Brian Otis and John Burt from the National Science Foundation have developed and financed the tracking tag system.
The digital radio tags were manufactured at the lab of Otis, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington.
“This is a new type of animal-tracking technology,” Otis said in a statement. “Ecology is just one of the many fields that will be transformed with miniaturized, low-power wireless sensors.”
The conventional method used for tracking animals made use of a radio transmitter. Researchers could however track animals using a VHF receiver, only if animals were in close vicinity. While researchers could monitor the grazing, resettlement and mating manners of the animals, they could not track all the exchanges between them.
The latest tags are small and will be tied to the birds using a degradable strap that disconnects from the subject only after the battery has discharged. Researchers can now view all communications among the animals as the tags interact amongst themselves.
Researchers can therefore turn off the battery if the number of encounters occurring is low.
Burt has completed his PhD thesis on birdsong communication and education. Otis has specialized in small, lightweight, low-power electronics. Both scientists worked together for nearly seven years before launching Encounternet LLC.
Said Burt: “Encounternet tags can monitor each other, so you can use them to study interactions among animals. You can’t even start to do that with other radio-tracking technology. People are excited about this because for the first time, it allows them to study smaller animal interactions and social networks on an incredibly fine scale. Social networks are turning out to be key to understanding many animal behaviors. People say Encounternet is the only thing they can find that can collect that information.”
The upcoming releases of Encounternet will include a GPS component for documenting the position of the encounters, and an accelerometer for perceiving the activities of the animal.
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Edited by Braden Becker