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Friday, May 2, 2008

PetTech - Pet GPS

Why a pet GPS

Last week my niece asked me for a pet GPS for her birthday. The previous day she had come home from school and could not find Charlie, her pomeranian puppy. We canvassed the neighborhood calling his name and whistling. We even tried to see if Bosco, the other dog of the household (a lab) would be able to sniff him out. We could not find him and started thinking he had been stolen. All sorts of suggestions came up, call the police, call the shelters, put out flyers, offer a reward...... Finally, one of our neighbors whom was not at home during our search, returned the pup. She had found him running around earlier in the day and kept him till we got home. Without thinking I blurted out "that dog needs a lojack". I was then obliged to explain to my niece what a lojack is, and equated it to a GPS. In her eyes, since I mentioned it, it is now my mission to ensure that we get Charlie a GPS.

Though exact figures are difficult to come by, approximately 2 million pets are stolen or lost every year in the US. There is therefore a need for identification and tracking devices. With the advent of GPS technology, there have emerged are a few pet GPS that are now available on the market.

Identification and tracking devices.

Microchips vs Pet GPS

Historical animal loss prevention techniques included practices such as branding. Identification devices started out with collars, and tags and have now developed to microchips.

Identification tags are your pets first line of recovery in case of loss. Your address and/or telephone number and that of a friend or neighbor is sufficient. All pets should have tags as a fundamental and backup, in case any other device fails.

Microchips are implanted subcutaneously. They operate through radio frequency identification. On the chip is a unique number. This number is recorded as well as the owners contact information, and the description and name of the pet. Different services offer different information levels, for example, secondary contact, vet contact, etc. This information is entered in a recovery services database.

Unlike pet GPS, microchips cannot be removed without surgery. They are relatively safe and inexpensive and do not need a power source to function. They are also viable for a cross section of pets due to their small size which varies from a grain of rice to a pin. They generally last on average 25 years, which is the lifetime of most pets. Obviously, challenges arise in the case of pets with a longer lifespan, for example tortoises, or elephants. Lastly they are weather/terrain proof and are thus adaptable for aquatic pets.

The drawback with microchips is that they are not universal. Different manufacturers of chips also produced the scanners to read them with. We therefore have a situation where chips and scanners are incompatible. There is therefore no guarantee that the chip you purchase will be readable by the neighborhood shelter or veterinarian's scanner.

Secondly the coverage of the support services is important. Is the service available and in widespread usage in all states? In most cases, overseas relocations would require microchips in use in that region.
Lastly, microchips are passive, in that the pet has to be recovered and find its way to a scanner, in order for the unique identification to be read.

It is interesting to note that microchips are mandated by law for certain classifications of pet in certain domiciles at the local and/or national level.

Tracking systems vs Pet GPS.

Electronic tracking systems were originally used on animals in the wild for research purposes. They were then applied to sport, as hunters would try to locate where their hunting hounds had ground their quarry.

Tracking systems are made up of two components. Attached to the animal is a transmitter that emits radio frequency signals. (With pets this is on a collar or harness.). The second component is a directional antenna and receiver, that picks up the signal. When the antenna is pointed in the direction of the transmitter, the signal becomes louder.

Tracking systems are expensive , the more so with the more powerful and commercial units. Each system is independent and therefore can be used anywhere on the planet. (not too sure about in space.). Latest developments have resulted in some powerful long range units weighing as little as 35 grams. However this is cutting edge technology and is geared towards well funded wildlife research rather than a household budget. Due to the small size of transmitters vis a vis pet GPS, cat collars are now available using this technology. These transmitters weigh 10grams and have an advertised range of 2 blocks to a mile in open country. The batteries for the transmitters last @ a month. The receivers are handheld and can track upto 30 different transmitters. Some learning is required to use this system optimally. The total cost of receiver and transmitter is @ $250.00 to $300.00. The manufacturer states that they are water resistant, not water proof . As such they might not work if the pet went for a swim, and this effectively eliminates aquatic pets. In addition as like the current available pet GPS, they are detachable.

Pet GPS.

Pet GPS are of two main different types. They are what I will call the conventional pet GPS, which are closest to what we are familiar with in our vehicles, and the non-conventional pet GPS.

Conventional pet GPS.

What I have termed conventional pet GPS are basically global positioning system enabled pet tracking devices. Essentially, they are composed of two components. The hand held receiver and the collar receiver. Radio communication is used between the pet receiver and the hand held receiver. Global postitioning technology can be on the collar receiver, the hand held receiver, or a combination of both.

The hand held receiver will display the location, velocity and direction of the collar receiver. Some devices (both conventional and non-conventional) support a virtual fence. When your pet leaves this designated area, an alert is given and the pet is tracked. The receiver has the ability to track from 3 to 10 transmitters from a range of 1 to 5 miles, depending on the type of device. Some have optional street maps and points of interes similar to vehicle GPS. These conventional models do not require additional communications

Non-conventional pet GPS.

Non- conventional GPS generally use a combination of GPS and GSM or cell phone technologies. The receiver on the pet is tracked using either GPS or GSM triangulation. It then transmits its location via GSM to a service center. The center will then alert the pet owner via SMS, email, website or pager as to the location of the pet.

Pet GPS are advantageous in that they pin point your pet with relative accuracy.

Both conventional and non-conventional pet GPS, are expensive ranging from $300.00 to $700.00. In the case of the non-conventional, monthly service charges also accrue. They operate on batteries and battery life therefore becomes an issue. Most are classified as "water resistant" with only one advertised as water proof. They are large and therefore are restricted in their uses for pet species. (Most of them are actually called dog GPS.) They are restricted to areas that have satellite or GSM coverage, and are limited in range.


Pet GPS still need some development to be affordable and utilitarian. A GPS enabled microchip would be the ideal device, and though not yet on the market, is the next frontier of the pet GPS.


Hilmar said...

Why a pet GPS Last week my niece asked me for a pet GPS for her birthday. ...

Toby Vawter said...

Invent one btds, I'll buy no matter the cost!

Edward said...

It's a nice article about pet tracker,.
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Henry said...

Keep sharing more informative post like that,
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Henry said...

It's good to see your post,
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Manav Mathur said...

Amazing Post. you can have a look at the GPS Pet Tracker by ThinkRace Technology