Tiny GPS Logger For The Internet Of Animals

TickTag, a tiny GPS logger with 3d printed case, LiPo battery and a 1 Euro coin for size reference

[Trichl] has created a tiny GPS logger, called ‘TickTag’, designed as an inexpensive location tracking option for animal studies. The low cost, tiny form factor, and large power density of the LiPo battery give it the ability to track large populations of small animals, including dogs and bats.

The TickTag is capable of getting 10,000 GPS fixes from its 30 mAh cell. Each unit is equipped with an L70B-M39 GPS module controlled by an Atmel ATtiny1626 microcontroller and sports a tiny AXE610124 10-pin connection header for programming and communication. GPS data is stored on a 128 kB EEPROM chip with each GPS location fix using 25 bits for latitude, 26 bits for longitude, and 29 bits for a timestamp. Add it all up and you get 10 bytes per GPS data point (25+26+29=80), giving the 10k GPS fix upper bound.

To record higher quality data and extend battery life, the TickTag can be programmed to record GPS location data using variable frequency intervals or when geofencing bounds have been crossed.

Since the device is so small, any errant signals close to the antenna can cause problems with receiving. [Trichl] warns that when mounting the device it should be placed well away from any other tags or conducting material, including its own battery, which is required to be mounted behind the tag, not under, to avoid drowning out the GPS signal.

TickTag connected to a User Interface Board

Getting data off of the TickTag requires physical access to the device which can be done via
a companion “user interface board”. The interface board integrates charging logic and USB communication, among other functionality, reducing complexity in the TickTag module itself.

The source code, Gerbers, design files, and 3D printable case are available on GitHub. Besides the documentation and source code, their paper in the Public Library of Science (PLOS ONE) journal is full of details, including the results of embedding a device on a canis lupus familiaris.

Who knows, maybe the TickTag is even resilient enough to be used to track the catus domesticus.

35 thoughts on “Tiny GPS Logger For The Internet Of Animals

        1. The presented device doesn’t have a wireless interface. If you want access to the stored data, you have to catch the animal, remove the tag from it and open up the tag. Then you can plug the tag in its reader shown above.
          A similar project is the (https://www.birdlife.org.au/afo/index.php/afo/article/download/2247/2269), which has a 1g tag which allows for wirelessly downloading the data. That tag might have other limitations. I didn’t check in detail.

          1. Correction: the tag is 2.7g. The data can’t be read while the animal is still wearing the tag. They added an auto-release mechanism to retrieve the tags when birds arrive at a feeding station.

      1. I was thinking something like TAG-connect but much smaller. Personally, I would probably have used abed of nails, that only requires a few test pads on the board, which can even be spread around, so it would save weight, production cost and possibly board size, although in this case the size is determined by the SoC.

  1. Very nice project. I might attach one to my neighbour’s cat who is currently sitting on my sofa licking it’s paws. Shame it does not have LoRa as I fear the owner’s might remove it before I get access to the data. Or, I could hook it up to some kind of geo-fencing device to stop it going back to it’s owner?

    1. I’d say directly trying to steal/kidnap/catnap your neighbor’s cat is a bad idea, and I’m wondering why you would want to. I understand allowing a roaming cat into your house, but why not allow it to leave? And why would the data be useful?

  2. It may be advantageous to add an interrupt based IMU for higher frequency logging and make the update interval for the GPS based on calculated distance traveled. Using FRAM would save more power but increase the pricetag. With the power savings, you could plausibly have a higher frequency mostly IMU logger and use the FRAM as a buffer that gets dumped into to cheap Flash memory.

  3. I am working on LoRa/GPS micro tracker (8x25mm, SAMR34, ZOE-M8Q) sewn into cat’s collar which will send GPS positon each hour and display it on the google map on the cell phone. Expected battery life is 3 months (3x Energizer 675 Zinc Air).

    1. If you make a GPS collar with a WiFi camera small enough for a cat you would be rich. I don’t mean the bulky ones or cubes…which is what is out there. If a camera can be in a writing pen it can be made for a cat. Everything out there is not good or too big. Can you do that?

    2. Hi Dan, just what I am looking for to keep tabs on my cat, she is often getting lost. can you make it available to buy? there is nothing available that is of any use, that doesn’t cost upwards of £40 to purchase and then you have to pay a monthly subscription costing the best part of £100.00 per year.

    3. I’m also very interested in such device (price tag is not a major concern if the unit can provide positioning information at reasonable intervals). As a owner of Norwegian Forest Cat I had in the past many occuriancies when our pet “disappeared” for a couple of days, therefore GPS tracking would be a great solution.

  4. I expect to equip the locator with an LED light and a buzzer so that the cat can be tracked day and night at a given location (its last location according to the GPS) by a command from the mobile phone for, for example, 1 minute.

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