It has been repeatedly reported that certain animals change their behavior and anticipate, for example, that a storm or an earthquake is approaching. Valuable information for monitoring the environment that could be exploited through a huge biolocation network that connects tagged animals with the International Space Station. A study published on Trends in ecology and evolutionApril 1, 2022, describes what this alternative Internet could look like, made up of guard animals capable of transmitting a wealth of data worldwide and in real time. First step: take 100,000 animals to test this ambitious project.
A sunbird, a pioneer in “Animal Internet”
This system was proven for the first time in September 2020, thanks to a sunflower. While the bird, equipped with a beacon in Belarus, made its migratory flight towards Albania, it flew towards the ISS, which then passed above, at an altitude of about 410 kilometers. It was the recipient of the International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS), located on a Russian module of the ISS, which retrieved data on the sun’s location and most recent come and go. The data file was then transferred to Earth. This 223-byte reception opened up a new era of space-tagged animal detection: This is the first time a bird tag has sent its data to the ISS.
This digital technology is inspired by the Internet of Things (IoT), or Web of Things, a term that refers to all physical objects connected to the Internet (clock, glasses, car). It is capable of transmitting the position and behavior of several equipped species and can provide the opportunity to follow the movements of thousands of animals. Thanks to ever smaller transmitters, 3 to 4 grams for recent generations and above all cheap, nearly $ 100 each, one could imagine tagging tens of thousands of species each year to build what ICARUS calls the “animal internet”. “.
100,000 animals in the test campaign
To promote this network, the ICARUS project, led by Russian and German scientists, launched the international campaign “100,000 Guard Animals”. The goal: to tag 100,000 individuals of about 500 different species who will be able to transmit their data to a receiver module located on the ISS and able to retransmit them almost instantly to Earth. Based on past experience with ICARUS, the study suggests that wildlife organizations, non-governmental organizations, scientists, and birdwatchers would perform the majority of the rollout of powered transmitters.
Marking so many animals will not be easy, but the team hopes that with the lower cost of transmitters, traditional methods of satellite tracking will be a disadvantage. In fact, labeling 50,000 animals a year would cost a maximum of 15 million euros, ie. “a small fraction of the typical cost” other environmental satellite missions, according to the researchers.