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Vodafone builds an Internet of seals for Sea Mammal Research Unit

vodafone-smru-seal-with-smart-tag

Marine mammals across the globe are to be networked using machine-to-machine (M2M) technology in a partnership between the University of St Andrews and Vodafone.

In the joint project the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) Instrumentation Group at the university will use Vodafone’s comms and Internet of Things (IoT) expertise to help research into the rapid decline of certain marine species.

In the UK, which has two resident species, populations of the Harbour seal have fallen by 90% in some areas in the last 10 years. The partnership will allow SMRU to trace all the seals by networking them with small harmless wearable smart tags.

Researchers will use Vodafone’s M2M technology and global network to widen the reach and quality of transmission in data collected from them when they surface to breathe. The data collected helps all research bodies across the globe to advise government bodies, industry and offshore energy companies on marine conservation and possibly save the seal population.

Vodafone’s global M2M network and third party satellite services provide a single comms network from coastlines around the world so that data about a seal’s location, dive behaviour and its oceanic environment is sent directly from the tags to SMRU for analysis. The seals will not clock up any unforeseen data roaming charges if they travel to a different country, says Vodafone, as its network works across a single system. Marine scientists can directly control the active state of every M2M SIM in each tag anywhere in the world from a single PC.

A marine smart tag is lightweight, no larger than a mobile phone and can withstand depths of up to 200 metres. Fixed to the fur of seals with harmless adhesive, the tags drop off during the animals’ annual moult. The SMRU is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and aims to produce up to 100 Vodafone M2M marine smart tags per year for use across the world.

SMRU and Vodafone began installing the M2M service this month for use on seals around the Northern Isles. In Spring 2016 it will repeat the exercise in Western Scotland, for a project backed by the Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage. They also plan to work together at Vodafone’s laboratories in the UK to investigate ways to improve the speed and efficiency of relaying data ashore. After a dive, seals come to the sea surface to breathe only for short periods. So SMRU and Vodafone will continue to investigate ways to use these brief ‘data communication’ periods without expending too much battery energy.


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