IoT firm UnaBiz intros low-power GPS trackers to monitor black bears in Japan
Singapore-based Sigfox operator and IoT service provider UnaBiz is providing low-power GPS trackers to monitor Asian black bears in Japan, and help keep the peace with local residents.
The company is working with the Picchio Wildlife Research Centre, a wildlife tour operator and conservation company in the Nagano Prefecture in Japan, to track the bears near the holiday town of Karuizawa. The local bear population has caused alarm for residents and visitors as their foraging has crossed into farms and in villages (and urban areas have extended outwards into their habitats), especially ahead of winter hibernation.
The Picchio Wildlife Research Centre has been using more power-hungry GPS collars, which required replacing each year. The new IoT solution from UnaBiz lasts for up to three years, and costs a tenth of the price, the company said. It quoted bear expert Gen Oshima, who has been tracking and ‘collaring’ bears for the Picchio Wildlife Research Centre for 10 years, to outline the technological advantages.
In a press statement, Oshima said the new tracker offers cost and reliability advantages compared with the very high frequency (VHF) radio and GPS collars used previously. “These [advantages] include good coverage in the deep forest and the ability to locate animals at specific times of the day. This is important because our rangers have to locate the bears between midnight and 2am in order to literally chase the bears back into the woods.”
The Picchio Wildlife Research Centre tested the UnaBiz tracker over the winter. It plans to collar bears caught after spring. There are approximately 21,000 Asian black bears in Japan. The programme is part of a bigger project to track other wildlife to prevent hunting by poachers and damage to villages and farms. The next candidate for GPS tracking is the large local population of monkeys.
UnaBiz runs Sigfox networks in Singapore and Taiwan. It is working as well as a solution developer with a variety of IoT technologies. The company said it will “explore” other lightweight IoT devices with even longer battery lives for the programme. Pascal Gerbert-Gaillard, managing director for UnaBiz in Japan, said: “Although wild animals like bears and monkeys can cause damage to towns and become vectors of infectious diseases to farm animals, they also play an important role in the ecosystem.
“As the only wildlife organisation in Asia that manages wild bears with GPS technology, UnaBiz is pleased to support Picchio with a reliable and long-term solution that ensures a long-term peaceful coexistence between bears with humans. Black Bears in Karuizawa have been an issue for locals and tourists alike who have to co-exist with the wild animals scavenging for garbage in the area.”
In 2018, UnaBiz raised over $10 million in Series A funding to develop IoT infrastructure and services in Singapore and Taiwan. The funding included investments from Japanese operator KDDI and French electric utility ENGIE. Its most significant deal to date, in 2019, is with Japanese utility firm Nippon Gas (NICIGAS), for 850,000 Sigfox-based gas meters. The deal, one of the most notable on Sigfox’s books, has been extended since.
Last year, it played a key role as solution developer (rather than operator) in a Sigfox deal with Australian keg rental provider Konvoy Group, which serves the beverage industry. The firm has 200 customers tracking 20,000-odd Sigfox-connected kegs, using trackers developed by UnaBiz. The plan, at the time of the announcement, was to connect 95 percent of its fleet in Australia and New Zealand, the equivalent of 70,000 kegs, by the end of 2021.
At the time, Sigfox called it “the world’s first large-scale connected beer-keg solution”.