Wildlife tracker devices are an incredible aid to your project. But will you get them in time? Are they are easy to activate and reliable? Is the data presented well? Design is key in all these areas.
The design of a wildlife trackers impacts the level of time needed to manufacture them and their 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 and missed data.
Can you get your wildlife tracker in time?
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. This can be an indication of a complex device design or an immature manufacturing process…or both! A simple design will eliminate issues like this. Simple also means the physical construction is easier. This also tells you to expect a shorter manufacturing lead time.
Setting up system components like terrestrial radio receiver stations is fine. Wildlife trackers and receivers that use GSM/cellular to send the data are amazing. You want the manufacturer to interact with the carrier so you don’t have to. Simple system design means you won’t need to provide and manage SIM cards for each service in your project geography. SIM cards tend to get lost, so a design that has no need for these is a great advantage.
If your field team is required to carry things like infrared lights to activate devices, you will lose them. Guaranteed. Be sure the set up of your wildlife tracker is as easy as can be.
Are they reliable?
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. The best design depends on honest feedback from clients who have used their wildlife tracker system. Ask for references.
Is good data presentation designed in?
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!)
Beyond the wildlife tracker, be sure the manufacturing partner you choose has designed their business to be responsive to your project’s requirements. 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 could be a very strong indicator of the experience you’ll have.