02 Nov 2017

Extending battery life and value for wearable GPS trackers

Extending battery life and value for wearable GPS trackers

dog tracker

GPS trackers – small, wearable devices used to track people, pets and animals – have made life easier for parents, pet owners, wildlife researchers, farmers, and businesses alike. By providing real-time positioning information, parents can keep an eye on their kids from afar, farmers can easily keep track of their livestock, and businesses can monitor lone workers in the field.

But while GNSS positioning technology is essential to these devices, it’s also their main source of power consumption. In order to achieve adequate battery life, these devices often have to reduce location update frequency to minimal levels, but this makes them less functional as real-time tracking devices. Alternatively, high-frequency positioning updates can be configured, but at the cost of the user having to remember to charge the device frequently.

For this class of wearables, where positioning is the core functionality, turning the GNSS unit off to save battery is not an option, and improving energy efficiency is the only way forward. A more energy efficient GNSS unit not only benefits battery life, but also enables better GNSS performance and overall device functionality.

Extending the critical hours

Whether it’s a pet collar, a wildlife tracking tag, or a lone worker safety device, having accurate, frequent GPS fixes is vital to the application. At the same time, running out of battery at a critical moment is of great concern – having your GPS tracker fail while your pet is on the run is almost as bad as not having the device at all.

To balance battery life with update frequency, animal tracking applications often use geofencing techniques. A safe zone is predefined. For a farmer, this may be the normal grazing area for his livestock, and for a pet owner it could be the vicinity of their home. If the animal moves outside of that safe zone, the GPS tracker goes into emergency mode and the update frequency increases.

While this method is an effective stopgap measure for inefficient GNSS units, it’s still far from a perfect solution. As the GPS tracker goes into emergency mode, it depletes its battery quickly, yet this is the exact time when a battery failure could mean the loss of the animal.

In addition, while geofencing works well for animals, it doesn’t work for people-tracking applications. Lone workers or children being tracked are often not in a fixed place and simply need to be tracked at regular intervals regardless of their location. In these cases, having a long-lasting device is even more critical.

With three times the power efficiency of traditional GNSS technology, the u-blox ZOE M8B GNSS SiP with Super-E mode benefits both animal and people-tracking applications. Whether it’s grazing livestock, a beloved pet, or a worker out in the field, the improved energy efficiency that the Super E mode provides means that a tracker can stay in high-frequency mode all the time without consuming more power than traditional solutions with a power-saving mode. Ultimately, Super E mode offers users high-frequency GNSS updates during the critical hours when they’re needed most.

A better wearable

Using GNSS positioning technology, often in conjunction with cellular radios, wearable GPS trackers provide high-value real-time location information for animal and people-tracking applications. However, the positioning technology at their core is also their greatest challenge. Up until now, wearable GPS trackers have had to limit their functionality to deliver adequate battery life performance in space-constrained form factors.

Improving energy efficiency by a factor of three during tracking, the new Super-E mode in the ZOE-M8B GNSS module allows wearable GPS trackers to deliver their core promise of providing peace of mind to parents and pet owners, and helping businesses keep workers safe.

For more blog posts on wearables, see our posts on a great solution for GPS sports watches and a super‑efficient GPS module could become a game changer for fitness trackers and Smartwatches – the all‑in‑one wearable

You can also visit our microsite dedicated to Wearables.

Florian Bousquet

Market Development Manager, Product Center Positioning, u-blox

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