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IoT Aims to Track Free-Ranging Reindeer in Finland

Finnish reindeer herders are testing a LoRaWAN-based solution from Digita and Actility on several dozen alpha female reindeer, in order to track herds of thousands of animals and detect when they may be in danger from predators or vehicles.
By Claire Swedberg

The herders have also used a device known as a death bell, which detects if an animal has remained in one place for more than three hours, possibly indicating that it may have been killed by a predator. The device sends its unique ID number via a very high frequency (VHF) RFID transmission to those carrying VHF antennas, only if movement has stopped for a prolonged period, so as to alert the herders to a problem, according to Matti Särkelä, the office head of the Reindeer Herders' Association, in Finland.

"This allows reindeer owners to go to view a deceased member of their herd as soon as possible," Särkelä states, "and to capture evidence of predator attacks. Additionally, they can seek compensation from the government when it can be proven that a predator has killed a reindeer." However, VHF technology requires that antennas be installed in all the areas of interest, and this can make it challenging to monitor every animal's location.

FRHA and the Palojärvi reindeer herding district (there are 54 such districts in Finland) began piloting the Digita- and Actility-based IoT system in June 2017. Digita then began offering trackers to Palojärvi district herders in September, during the bi-annual reindeer roundup, says Von Cameron, Actility's business and development execution VP for the Americas. Rather than tag every animal, the association applied the trackers only to each herd's alpha female.

Since the animals tend to travel in herds, knowing where the alpha female is located provides sufficient information to understand the entire herd's activities. Herds with a single alpha female can vary in size from tens to hundreds of reindeer. In one area, approximately 65 to 70 trackers are in use for around 4,000 animals.

The reindeer are being tracked throughout an area spanning 50 square kilometers (19.3 square miles), serviced by five LoRaWAN gateways installed on masts standing more than 300 meters (984 feet) in height, to capture tracker transmissions and forward that information to a server. "LoRa is a great technology for this use case for several reasons," Cameron says. The tracker does not require a SIM card to store and transmit data, and can support a long battery life—potentially five to ten years.

"We are using existing commercially available GPS LoRaWAN trackers" during the first phase of the pilot, says Ari Kuukka, Digita's IoT services director. Digita is currently evaluating trackers from several vendors for their battery life, LoRaWAN radio performance and durability in the extreme environment in which reindeer roam, with temperatures dropping to -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit). The trackers, which are being attached to the animals' collars, typically measure 10 centimeters by 5 centimeters by 2 centimeters (3.9 inches by 2 inches by 0.8 inch) and weigh about 200 grams (7.1 ounces).

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