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ICARUS will observe animals on land, in the air and in the water.
Jul 02, 2018 | News

The Internet of animals

Scientists want to use the International Space Station (ISS) to help them keep an eye on migratory birds and other animals around the world. ICARUS creates a sort of Internet of animals for that purpose. The radio technology comes from INRADIOS, a Rohde & Schwarz subsidiary.

It is the biggest mass migration on our planet: every autumn, billions of migratory birds fly from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere. However, detailed investigation of their migration routes and migratory behavior has been hindered by a lack of suitable methods. The space based ICARUS observation system will change that. It allows the routes of individual animals to be followed with GPS precision. And that’s not all. Information about the energy consumption and acceleration of the animals can be used to draw conclusions about their life history, their behavior and their community.

ICARUS is a joint project of the Max Planck Society, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Russian aerospace agency Roscosmos. It was initiated and is directed by the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (MPIO) in Radolfzell (Germany).

The MPIO calls this a new era of behavioral research. Along with birds, this big-data project will observe the behavior of bats, turtles and many other species, so it is of interest not only to ornithologists. It is intended to create a global network – a sort of Internet of animals. The potential applications are manifold and include protection of endangered wild animals as well as prevention of locust plagues. It is even possible for animal behavior to warn of impending natural disasters. The data from the animals (equipped with miniature transmitters) will be processed in a computer on board the International Space Station (ISS) and transmitted to Earth over a radio link. The signals can also be received directly on the ground using mobile or stationary receivers.

ICARUS will be the world’s first satellite based IoT system. The technology opens up new paths for the remote monitoring of sensors in remote areas. The Dresden based Rohde & Schwarz subsidiary INRADIOS is handling realization of the radio concept, implementation of the firmware for the onboard computer and development of the transmitters for the animals. Rohde & Schwarz is also responsible for developing the ground radios and is producing all components.

The ICARUS onboard equipment was carried to the ISS by two supply missions in October 2017 and February 2018. Along with the FPGA board, the system consists of three receiving antennas and one transmit antenna. The antennas are scheduled to be installed in August 2018. Subsequently, a test operation begins, which is to be seamlessly transferred into regular operation. According to the MPIO, there is a great deal of interest in the participation of numerous research institutes from all over the world.

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