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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Connecting reindeer herds to the Internet of Things

By Nick Flaherty

In a seasonal story, Actility is using LoRaWAN wide area technology to connect up reindeer in Lapland.

Herders travel up to 40km each day following and protecting the animals throughout the bleak Lapland winter and greener summer. GPS trackers around the necks of the animals connect to the long-range network to track the semi-wild herds that can roam free in herding districts covering one third of Finland. The reindeer are only gathered together by the herders twice a year, providing the sole opportunity for the trackers to be fitted or recharged.
Up to 300,000 animals in the summer being managed by the herders, generating around €25m a year from meat, fur and antler products. Up to 10% of the reindeer are lost, both to the teeth, beaks and claws of hungry wolverine, lynx, bears golden eagles and wolves, and even trucks and freight trains – only last month over 100 reindeer were killed by a train in a single incident in Norway. 

The Finnish Reindeer Herders Association is working with Finnish communications provider Digita using Actility gateways on the company’s existing television masts to achieve the long range coverage. 

The pilot study began in June, and this September, at the bi-annual reindeer roundup, the herders were able to put few tens of trackers on selected animals. Because the reindeer move in herds, putting trackers on “alpha female” reindeer was the best way of locating the herd as whole. The trackers use GPS satellite signals to determine their location, but communicate that location to Digita’s gateways over low power LoRaWAN. This maximizes the battery life, and reduces costs as there is no need for cellular subscriptions for every device.

“This tracking solution brings real benefits for the reindeer and for our herders,” says Matti Särkelä, who is Head of Office at the Finnish Reindeer Herders’ Association in Rovaniemi. “The main challenge is that today’s sensors are still quite large. We need a sensor that lasts for a year, at a low cost, and improved location technology – it can be hard to get good GPS signals in the high Arctic. We’re working now on finding the best technology mix and getting the best sensor, with the innovative Finnish LoRa ecosystem that’s building around Digita. For example, our mapping and visualisation software comes from Mapitare, a Finnish start-up that began creating offline-enabled maps for the emergency services.”

“We’re all really excited to see this amazing application of the power of LoRaWAN and IoT geolocation enabled by Digita and Actility delivering real results,” said  Mike Mulica, CEO of Actility. “The combination of the latest IoT technology with hundreds of years of tradition is unique in our experience. And it’s a great experiment with much wider implications – if you can track reindeer in those conditions, then you can track anything, anywhere.”

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