Cellular IoT animal tracker

Cellular IoT animal tracker continually pinpoints herding animal location across vast tracts of unfenced countryside

Cellular IoT animal tracker continually pinpoints herding animal location across vast tracts of unfenced countryside

Nordic nRF9160 SiP-powered LTE-M/NB-IoT animal tracker precisely locates roaming animals across forests and mountains, dramatically easing supervision

Nordic Semiconductor today announces that Asker, Norway-based Telespor, an animal-tracker developer, in collaboration with Horten, Norway-based 7Sense Technologies, an electronics R&D consultancy, has selected Nordic’s nRF9160 low power System-in-Package (SiP) with integrated LTE-M/NB-IoT modem to provide the cellular IoT connectivity for its ‘Radiobjella generation 4’ animal tracker.

The animal tracker is an LTE-M/NB-IoT cellular IoT device which can be worn on a collar around the neck of a herding animal such as a sheep. By using mature 4G cellular infrastructure, the tracker accurately and continuously reports the animal’s position and movements allowing them the freedom to forage across unfenced forest and mountains yet ensuring farmers comply with government regulations which mandate a weekly health check on each. Previously, farmers faced a time-consuming and haphazard task to locate animals by guessing their approximate location and then listening for the sound of a bell worn round their neck. The Radiobjella dramatically shortens the time it takes to find the animals for the weekly inspection and then round up the herd for winter protection.

Nordic’s nRF9160 SiP combines cellular network location data with GPS trilateration to improve the precision of tracking. The 10 by 16 by 1 mm dimensions of the nRF9160 SiP—the most compact cellular IoT solution on the market—enables the Radiobjella’s footprint to measure just 65 by 55 mm and its weight to be kept down to 100 g making it unobtrusive for the animals to wear. Because the Nordic SiP is optimized for low power operation—for example, it supports PSM and eDRX power saving modes—the animal tracker’s 18505 3.6V 3.5Ah Spiral Li-SOCl2 battery can upload data up to 15,000 times during a season. This compares with the battery on Telespor’s previous 2G cellular modem which was limited to around 1,000 uploads. The dramatic increase in data capacity enables, for example, the tracker’s built-in accelerometer to supply information about the animal’s transient movements and notify the farmer about immobility caused by injury or predation.

The Radiobjella has been designed, with the help of 7Sense Technologies, to meet the demands of farmers in countries with harsh environments such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. It is capable of withstanding impacts, water immersion, and freezing temperatures. The product benefits from the experience gained when designing and building the previous generation of (2G) cellular modems including optimization of the housing, circuit design, and antenna placement.

The nRF9160’s multimode support proved a key advantage for the tracker because although Scandinavia has excellent LTE coverage, we can fall back to the NB-IoT communication on the rare occasions LTE-M fails – Nicolay Jansen, Telespor

The nRF9160 is a low power SiP, certified for global cellular IoT applications, comprising a dedicated application processor and memory, multimode LTE-M/NB-IoT modem with integrated RF front end (RFFE), GPS, and power management in a compact package. The 64 MHz Arm® Cortex™-M33 processor includes 1 MB Flash and 256 KB RAM, a range of analog and digital peripherals, automated power and clock management, Arm TrustZone® for trusted execution, and Arm CryptoCell 310 for application layer security. The processor communicates with the LTE modem through a BSD secure sockets API and supports the application layer protocol (for example CoAP, MQTT or LWM2M) and the application itself. The nRF9160 SiP’s LTE modem supports both SIM and eSIM, offers 700 to 2200 MHz LTE band support, 23 dBm output power, and single pin 50 Ω antenna- and UICC-interfaces. The LTE stack layers L1-L3, IPv4/IPv6, TCP/UDP, TLS/DTLS are part of the modem firmware.

Related products include the nRF9160 DK, a precertified single board development kit and the nRF Connect SDK, a software development kit which includes application layer protocols, application examples, and LTE modem firmware offered as precertified and precompiled downloads. Target applications for the nRF9160 SiP are asset tracking, smart city, smart agriculture, industrial, wearables, and medical among others.

“The nRF9160’s multimode support proved a key advantage for the tracker because although Scandinavia has excellent LTE coverage, we can fall back to the NB-IoT communication on the rare occasions LTE-M fails,” says Nicolay Jansen, CEO of Telespor. “That enhances the reliability of the Radiobjella’s radio link.”

“Apart from that, the SiP’s open-source RTOS, high level of integration, and low power consumption, in addition to Nordic’s track record of delivering good products, gave us confidence in our component selection.”

“For Scandinavian farmers herding animals is necessary to secure income and the wellbeing of their livestock,” says Geir Langeland, Director of Sales & Marketing of Nordic Semiconductor. “That makes it highly important that these assets are tracked as they roam freely across a tough landscape. It’s a challenging application for the nRF9160 but one which proves the robustness and reliability of both the product in particular and cellular IoT in general.”

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