Wildlife telemetry devices are an incredible aid to your project. So long as you can get them in time, they are easy to activate, they are reliable, and the data is presented well. Design is key in all these areas.
A wildlife telemetry device’s design impacts the level of time needed to manufacture them and reliability. In wildlife research, management and consulting projects, telemetry devices are often custom built and programmed. Complexities in design introduce additional manufacturing tasks, and therefore opportunities for delays.
More than availability, will it be worth it once you get it? There may be especially tough activation and programming requirements, and especially tedious actions you will have to perform in order to initiate the devices. If your field team is required to carry external devices like magnets or infrared lights to activate each device, that will almost certainly mean these additional small parts are dropped or otherwise lost. A simple design will eliminate issues like this.
Setting up system components like base stations is fine. If your project will use devices that integrate with the cellular network, you want the manufacturer to interact with the carrier. Likewise, a simple wildlife-telemetry-device system design won’t call for you to provide and manage SIM cards for each cellular carrier in your project geography. SIM cards, like magnets and other small parts, will also tend to be lost, so a design that has no need for these is a great advantage.
What if you get the devices and they are not reliable? You’ve gone through the grant writing, developed and made presentations, talked to several manufacturers and contracted with one. You got the tracking devices, rounded up volunteers, captured animals, attached the devices, and are now anticipating your first data. You’re depending on the devices to be working as advertised. More data points will improve the quality of your data and the impact of your project. Tracking device and system reliability comes from the design, and the best design depends on honest feedback from clients who have used telemetry devices. Ask for references.
You’ll almost certainly want to analyze the data in separate software from the manufacturer. Nonetheless, wildlife telemetry system design should include top quality data presentation. A good manufacturing partner is developing this aspect of their line with input from researchers like you. Be sure you get a look at your prospective manufacturer partner’s data presentation. You want a clean interface and at least basic insights. Great if you can get more. If your project calls for base stations to hold data until you physically retrieve a data card, look for a system design that won’t require you to also send the data cards to them for processing. (I know, but it is still sometimes true!)
In a larger sense, be sure the manufacturing partner you choose has designed their business to be responsive to your project’s requirements. Beyond the device and system design, ask about the culture of their business. Ask for an example that illustrates their claim of “We’ll go to bat for you.” Their ability to give you examples of real partnerships, beyond telemetry devices and communications networks, could be a very strong indicator of the experience you’ll have.