Kinefox Tracks Wildlife For A Lifetime

An image of two dogs and a bison wearing harnesses with the energy harvesting system. Text next to the animals says Dog 1 (Exp. 1), Dog 2 (Exp. 2), Dog 2 (Exp. 3), and Wisent (Exp. 4)

Radio trackers have become an important part of studying the movements of wildlife, but keeping one running for the life of an animal has been challenging. Researchers have now developed a way to let wildlife recharge trackers via their movements.

With trackers limited to less than 5% of an animal’s total mass to prevent limitations to the their movement, it can be especially difficult to fit trackers with an appropriately-sized battery pack to last a lifetime. Some trackers have been fitted with solar cells, but besides issues with robustness, many animals are nocturnal or live in dimly-lit spaces making this solution less than ideal. Previous experiments with kinetically-charged trackers were quite bulky.

The Kinefox wildlife tracking system uses an 18 g, Kinetron MSG32 kinetic energy harvesting mechanism to power the GPS and accelerometer. Similar to the mechanical systems found in automatic winding watches, this energy harvester uses a pendulum glued to a ferromagnetic ring which generates power as it moves around a copper coil. Power is stored in a Li-ion capacitor rated for 20,000 charge/discharge cycles to ensure better longevity than would be afforded by a Li-ion battery. Data is transmitted via Sigfox to a cloud-based database for easy access.

If you want to build one to track your own pets, the files and BOM are available on GitHub. We’ve featured other animal trackers before for cats and dogs which are probably also applicable to bison.

17 thoughts on “Kinefox Tracks Wildlife For A Lifetime

  1. Too bad SigFox signed for bankruptcy protection recently. They failed to launch in the US, they’re losing the market to LoRaWAN and 4G/5G IoT, they couldn’t find any buyers to continue the business and will probably vanish in a few years.

      1. Or liquidate it, if they still can’t make a profit out of it. They’re having trouble even producing the hardware, which reflects in companies like Arduino dropping their SigFox boards, which means developers have a harder time using it.

        The network itself is “nice” for being extremely long range and reliable where it works, but it has such a tiny carrying capacity and almost no two-way transmission to speak of, so it’s not really suited for the majority of IoT tasks. The long range is also a major issue, because the coverage is intentionally sparse to save on infrastructure cost, which means you can easily miss 99% of the transmission from the edges of the cells without a very good antenna setup. We tried, and it worked up to the 40 km as promised, but only when the weather was just right.

        1. For something like an animal tracker, if the animal goes behind a hill or hides in a bush, you lose track of it, and you can’t collect a buffer of data because you don’t have any bandwidth to send it. 12 bytes is all you get, once every 10-15 minutes at the fastest.

      1. So basically this is a version of the kinetic generators that have been in self-charging electronic watch movements (other than solar ones) for years? I’ve often wondered how/if they could be incorporated into new projects as they must be salvageable for peanuts.

      2. It seems Kinetron also sells to researchers, but not to regular Joes like us, unfortunately. I suspect they were able to get a unit without having to tear apart a $750 watch? Since they do work with OEMs, I wonder if Adafruit or SparkFun could get a run for breakout boards if they wanted?

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