U-Blox monitors penguins in Antarctica

  • March 12, 2024
  • Steve Rogerson

Swiss firm U-Blox is using IoT positioning technology to monitor the feeding behaviour of penguins in Antarctica.

It is working with US-based wildlife telemetry company Cellular Tracking Technologies (CTT) in the penguin conservation initiative.

U-Blox’s cloud-based positioning enables non-invasive and continuous wildlife monitoring. Its CloudLocate positioning service lets scientists track and monitor the diving and feeding behaviour of a large Adélie penguin colony on Ross Island in Antarctica, one of the harshest environments on Earth.

The project started when Point Blue (www.pointblue.org), an American wildlife conservation company, contacted CTT for support to develop a tracking device to research the whereabouts of juvenile Adélie penguins on Ross Island. One of only five species of penguins on the continent, Adélie penguins serve as a widely recognised indicator species for scientists, demonstrating sensitivity to shifts in climate and the environment. Monitoring their population is thus crucial for assessing alterations in the marine ecosystem that can result from climate change and human activities such as commercial fishing.

Scientists aiming to monitor wildlife for conservation purposes in such remote regions face an array of technical challenges, such as the small size of the Adélie penguins, their speed and the long time spent underwater, and the lack of affordable connectivity. Any tracking device must therefore be extremely light and non-invasive for the animal, as well as consume very little battery power to last longer and prevent multiple replacements. It also has to be data efficient to reduce expensive satellite connectivity costs.

CTT and U-Blox collaborated to develop sustainable monitoring embedded within CTT’s Penguin Iridium GPS tracker on the back of the penguin. One of U-Blox’s standard precision GNSS modules, known for its compact dimensions and low battery consumption, captures the raw location data of a penguin. The CloudLocate (www.u-blox.com/en/product/cloudlocate) positioning service then offloads the power-hungry positioning calculation from the device to the cloud, saving ten times the energy and facilitating long-term monitoring.

The CTT tracker only needs to transmit a 50byte message, capturing crucial location information within the brief window of around three seconds when the penguin emerges from the water to breathe.

CTT plans to apply the same tracking technology for broader wildlife research and conservation efforts.

CTT (celltracktech.com) has its headquarters in Cape May, New Jersey. It was founded in 2007 by a small team of scientists and engineers and today employs 42 people who manufacture a full range of cellular, satellite and 434MHz and 2.4GHz digital radio tags for animals of all sizes. The tags are deployed on every continent, and allow researchers to track their animals worldwide.

U-Blox (www.u-blox.com) provides semiconductor chips, modules and IoT services. Headquartered in Thalwil, Switzerland, it has 1400 employees.