Why isn’t there an Arduino style platform for biologging and satellite telemetry?

It’s a question that the Arribada Initiative has been working to address for the past 3 years, and today at the World Marine Mammal Conference in Barcelona, we were delighted to be able to reveal the release of an open source ARGOS transmitter design, coupled with our version of an Arduino-style environment to drive it – Horizon.

If you’re a curious electrical engineer wanting to develop biologging tags, an NGO wanting to track plastics / marine litter on the open ocean, or you’re working on your PhD and need access to a customisable satellite telemetry biologging platform to address your incredibly specific needs, then you’ll have noticed that access to an open ARGOS transmitter reference design has been lacking (there wasn’t one).

We had the same problem. How could we include ARGOS satellite telemetry within the design of the Arribada Horizon sea turtle tag to enable our users to track migratory sea turtles? We currently offer an inter-nestal tag that is manually recovered from female sea turtles during clutch cycles every ~14 – 15 days, but in late 2017 we were made aware of a contest by CLS to develop an open source transmitter. Arribada applied, and we were sent 3 ARGOS ARTIC (Argos Transceiver Integrated Chipset) R2 chipsets.

How could we include ARGOS satellite telemetry within the design of the Arribada Horizon sea turtle tag to enable our users to track migratory sea turtles?

We selected Icoteq Ltd, an excellent wireless technology engineering firm based in Bath (UK) to develop the transmitter. The design work was funded by Arribada, the Shuttleworth Foundation and National Geographic who needed 30 x Arribada Horizon tags to track 500ml plastic bottles for their Sea to Source Plastics Expedition. We manufactured the bottles to support both cellular and ARGOS connectivity, utilising the cellular connectivity in urban environments and waterways and ARGOS when at sea, deploying bottles within the Ganges delta in Bangladesh to understand the movement of plastics through the river system to open water.

One of the National Geographic Sea to Source tracked 500ml water bottles, utilising the Arribada Horizon ARGOS transmitter.

The output from our efforts is the release of a fully featured biologging platform, that we call Horizon. Importantly, you’ll be able to purchase it boxed in a plug-and-play form. This means that you can get up and running and transmit to ARGOS satellites from your desk without needing to spin your own boards, and the tools to configure Horizon boards have been written in Python to ensure that it’s easy for developers to contribute.

Once you’ve explored the Horizon board and are ready to move forward, you could then integrate it into a custom enclosure / device to create your final tag / solution, or if you only need access to the ARGOS transmitter, you may decide to only integrate the transmitter by connecting it to your own custom microcontroller. We broke out the pins to the board using a standard PicoBlade interface. Because our transmitter has been certified by CLS, you can move forward with your design instead of re-engineering a solution from scratch.

If you only need access to the ARGOS transmitter, you may decide to only integrate the transmitter by connecting it to your own custom microcontroller.

Other features of the Horizon platform include;

  • Assisted GPS, accelerometer, pressure and Bluetooth 5.0
  • Cellular & ARGOS-4 connectivity
  • A graphical user interface that runs in your browser to configure Horizon devices

What’s next?

If you’re interested in the open reference design package you can learn more via the CLS website, or if you’d like pre-ordering information to get an Arribada Horizon ARGOS-4 Developer’s Kit visit arribada.org for pre-order information.