Open Source Tracker Keeps An Eye On Furry Friends

Most of the time, you’ll know where your cats are — asleep on the bed about 23.5 hours a day and eating or pooping the rest of the time. But some cats are more active than others, so there’s commercial options for those who want to keep tabs on their pet. Unfortunately, [Sahas Chitlange] didn’t like any of them, so he designed and built his own open source version:

The system is in two parts: a module that fits onto a cat collar, and a home station that, well, stays at home. It offers a variety of tracking modes. In home mode, the home station signals the collar every 10 seconds, which stays in a deep sleep most of the time. If the collar doesn’t get a signal from the home station, it switches to ping mode, where it will wait for a signal from the FindMyCat over the LTE-M connection and report its location.

Finally, the app can set the collar to Lost Kitteh mode, where the collar will send a location to the app every seven minutes or thirty seconds. The collar also supports a direction-finding feature, using the ultra wideband (UWB) feature of recent Apple iPhones to point you in the direction and distance of the tracked cat.

The collar is built around a Nordic Semiconductor NRF-9160, a System in a Package (SiP) that does most of the heavy lifting as it includes GPS, an LTE-M modem, and an ARM processor. One interesting feature here: [Sahas] doesn’t make his antennas on the PCB, but instead uses an Ignion NN03-310, an off-the-shelf antenna that is already qualified for LTE-M use. That means this system can be connected to almost any LTE-M network without getting yelled at for using unqualified hardware and making the local cell towers explode.

The collar also includes a DWM3001CDK ultrawideband (UWB) module used for the locator feature. The accompanying app uses this and Apple’s UWB support to show the user which direction the cat is in, and how far away it is. The app isn’t in the Apple App Store yet, so you’ll need to sign up for an Apple Developer account to use it. We’d love to hear from anyone who takes it for a test drive with their own pet.

Thanks for the tip, [Claude]

49 thoughts on “Open Source Tracker Keeps An Eye On Furry Friends

  1. I like the concept of RF tracking like a MarcoPolo system.
    No service required, very good battery life, very good distance.
    Someone PLEASE come up with or direct me to an open source transmitter for that, they cost around $120 alone and can’t have more than $10 worth of tech in them. There’s a huge hole that opensource can fill.

    1. This has directional tracking via ultra-wideband and it’s completely open. You don’t actually /need/ to use the cell connection.

      Also, I checked and you don’t even need to pay for the cell connection: “You may have to pay a tiny amount (1-2 $ / Month) of data costs for the SIM card if you go over the free limit. But in my testing I never crossed it.”

      This product is literally what you are asking for and more.

      1. It literally isn’t what I’m asking for.
        This requires a base station? Marco Polo has the receiver in a handheld with 4 folding antennas that has signal strength % and direction. Completely portable.

        This thing is completely open but it doesn’t actually exist past a prototype with zero code (as far as I can tell) and is pushing $100 or surpassing it in costs.
        The battery life is better than a marco polos transmitter, but the whole package is larger by what looks like double.

        Also there’s PLENTY of places you aren’t going to get cell service which rf has been great for, for many years tracking wildlife. Idk if it’s doing tx via gps with this(which is cool if it is) or just gathering the gps information and tx’ing it via the cell connection.

        Doing what I’m talking about with rf tx would probably cost 1/3rd of what this thing would end up costing. I’m too stupid to know how to do it and the people that are mass producing it are keeping costs high because the demand is low.

      1. I have been testing sx1280 that uses LoRa in 2.4G band, the results are quite good compared with Bluetooth. With BlueTooth trackers, event with a custom made one that uses BT Long Range I was getting max 40m inside and 150m in open field. With LoRa I got 200m inside and 2Km in open field. This chip has range measurement using time of flight so if you don´t want precise location you can skip a GPS module. I plan to compare with sx1268 that uses 433MHz band and in theory sould have better penetration in buidings, but it lacks ranging.

    1. Main Coon cats also have that on their foreheads. Most Nordic forest cats have that as well. Friend has a beautiful off-white Main Coon cat and it has the M, a bit less visible compared to darker colors, but still has it.

  2. I’m really impressed for an open source project to look like this. Beautifully made, some serious design work went into this. Most projects work, usually work well, but aren’t polished. This though, looks like it’s made by Apple or something. It looks like a finished product you could buy in the store. And not just the product. The website is way too professional for this, so much that it’s confusing me as I’ve never seen something like this before.

    For me, this product won’t work. My adorable furball stays inside. Don’t want her to be stolen, or run over by a car. It scares me. Luckily she has no desire to walk out. I can leave the door open in the summer and she’ll lay down in front of the open door.

    I was considering modifying a fitness tracker for her though. I was thinking about one of those xiaomi ones. Yeah I know, privacy, but ultra light and a super long battery life. The goal for me is to see how active she is and then see if there is a trend. It’s a good way to see if anything is wrong in the long run. Considering cats don’t like to talk about feeling ill, this might be a great option. Even when she’s under the weather she’ll run up to me and wants to be petted all day.

  3. Collar is wrong. Maybe. Probably.

    The collar needs to break free in case it snags on something, like a branch half-way up a tree. Usual design is to add an elastic potion or have a catch that’ll open with enough force. You can get plastic catches specifically for cat collars.

    (Have 2 cats, made their collars. They have BlueTooth tags (Tile clones) that’ll trigger a doorbell, back & front of house. IR to detect movement, then check if tag is present for 30 seconds. Pre-dates AirTag etc.)

      1. That’s what you want, I used a different type (see AliExpress).

        I’ve seen those metal clasps sold as kits for making collars, I’m pretty sure they’re not breakaway versions. And the collar material used doesn’t look very stretchy to me…

    1. Heh, I remember when those break-away collars became a thing (or at least when I first encountered them in the late 90’s). My cats could get out of them and lose them in less than a day. So I just gave up on collaring my cats.

      1. As far as I understand, that’s what they do. They take care of the ordering, logistics, and some marketing for open source hardware projects.

        Granted I haven’t actually used their services yet, so maybe they don’t quite do as advertised.

  4. We need something like this for Grampa, courtesy of his dementia. Airtags kinda work, but are somewhat slow – being constantly 5 minutes late for an hour or two as night descends is quite frustrating. I’ll have to look into the senior’s edition…

  5. Not android compatible ? So my major cost would be switching my cell to apple (NOT HAPPENING!) but still is th only feature lost the fine tracking if switched to Android system? Any chance of an android version, cause it is a real neat and usefull product! Needs android compatible and Dog version with strong collar attachment and the word Cat changed to Dog cause my dogs can spell and that wouldnt go over very well!!

    1. Need a GPS zapper to keep the cats in the ‘owners’ yards when out doors. One of our headaches around here is ‘cats’ roaming the neighborhoods and doing their business in other peoples flower beds and such at night.

  6. Neat design for a product that shouldn’t exist. Don’t let your cat roam outside. It shortens their lifespan, it shortens the lifespans of all the native wildlife they kill, and its illegal in 90% of cities and suburbs. If you really want them to have outdoor time build a cat run on your property so they can enjoy the outside but not escape or get killed.

    1. Keeping your cats indoors wouldn’t change these statistics (except very indirectly), as your source article defines the cats as being “free-ranging, unowned”. My cat going outside for a stroll (or a mouse) doesn’t make it a “free-ranging, unowned cat” (which would likely be killing and eating several birds/rodents per day, every day for years). “In the United States alone, there are 60 million to 100 million free-ranging, unowned cats. These are non-native predators that, even using conservative estimates, kill 1.3–4 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals each year in the U.S. alone (Loss et al. 2013, Nature Communications).”

        1. By removing fitness pressure from the bird population, you’re creating a less-survivable bird population.

          And even extinction is not a pure negative; nature abhors a vacuum and something else will expand to fill that ecological niche.

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