M2M exposes crow social networks
Machine to machine technology is helping researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the University of Washington in the U.S. monitor animal behavior. The team wanted to study crows in New Caledonia, which were already famous for their tool use, to find out whether they learned techniques from one another.
To do this, they used a system called Encounternet, which uses low-power programmable tags that can both send and receive information. Each tag records nearby pulses and determines the distance between tags by measuring the signal strength.
“Encounternet tags can monitor each other, so you can use them to study interactions among animals,” says co-author John Burt, Affiliate Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington. “You can’t even start to do that with other radio-tracking technology.”
The tags can weigh less than a gram, which means that they can be used on animals as light as 20 grams – a sparrow for example. They are attached with degradable straps, so will fall off when the battery is dead. The system also includes up to 100 base stations that record the tags’ information when the animals pass them.
The crow study showed a massive amount of contact between non-related crows. In fact, during one week, the technology picked up more than 28,000 interactions between 34 crows. This means that although there are only three core members in Caledonian crow families, all of them are connected to a larger social network.
The team that developed Encounternet is planning further refinements of the system to incorporate GPS and accelerometers to provide even richer information about animal behavior.