RFID and GPS: Betting on Bats

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RFID and GPS: Betting on Bats

Researchers at Tel Aviv University‘s Bat Lab for Neuro-Ecology is employing RFID and GPS technologies to understand the behavior of bats. Their aim is to gain information that can help researcher better understand the workings of the human mind. Tracking bats is tricky, as the animals can weigh an ounce or less, fly at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour and change direction suddenly in mid-flight. Studying them can provide valuable insights, says Professor Yossi Yovel. The solution created at the Bat Lab tracks the movements of these frenetic winged mammals as they enter and leave a nearby cave uses technology provided by startup Readbee, using readers and multiplexers from Sentiron. The team wanted to understand when bats came and went and where they went, so GPS units were attached to backpacks or collars around each animal’s neck. The GPS units come with batteries, as well as microphones, to track the conditions around each bat as it moves. That doesn’t work on smaller bats, however, since they can only support 10 percent of their weight. The GPS units weigh 4 to 6 grams apiece, and young bats (pups) can weigh as little as 1.5 grams. In addition, the GPS units are expensive—approximately $500 apiece—and, in many cases, a bat wearing the device may never return to the colony, in which case the unit is lost. As such, only some of the bats are equipped with the GPS devices. The group wanted to be able to track more bats, and to be able to recognize each animal as it entered and left the cave. The group had installed LF RFID technology, with tags embedded under the bats’ skin, but the read rate wasn’t high enough to be of value.

The performance of the system was far from 100 percent,

Yovel says,

and it often failed to read tags—for example, of bats flying too fast.

Readbee was launched in 2016 to provide custom UHF RFID solutions in Israel, says the company’s founder, Yoni Harris. UHF technology in Israel transmits at 915 to 917 MHz. The company collaborates with Senitron to provide solutions for inventory tracking and other use cases. It began working with Yovel and the university in January of this year, and spent the next six months developing a system that could capture nearly 100 percent of bat tag reads. The readers are installed in a tunnel measuring 3 feet by 3 feet. Readbee installed as many as eight antennas, along with one or two readers, before settling on the most effective solution. Two Senitron readers with built-in Impinj R2000 reader modules are mounted on the top and bottom of the entrance, each with a single antenna. The cloud-based software that Readbee developed uses the read count and time of tag arrival to identify the direction in which a given tag is moving, as well as how fast and whether it has stopped in the entrance. The tag ID is linked to the specific bat and its statistics, such as species, age and weight. As the data is collected, it is interpreted and stored.

Author: Tim Cole
Image Credit: Bat Lab for Neuro-Ecology

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