I’m a pet lover. I always have since I was very small. One of the most traumatic memories I have is of loosing my precious cat. Ultimately I got him back but it was about 6 weeks later, he was weak but very much alive. I has ecstatic. In many respects I got lucky, he was found three weeks earlier by a cat lady. She nurtured him for three weeks and took him to the vet. Since his collar had fallen off they thought he was a stray so only after he was much stronger did they scan him for a chip.

After loosing him, and the subsequently finding him again I’ve spoken to many friends with cats and dogs and heard very similar stories. Sometimes they find their pet, sadly sometimes they don’t.

Immediately after finding him I went out in search of tracking devices. I found quite a lot in the market – very little available in SA and generally very little that would be suitable for a cat.

Firstly the technology required is very complex.

  1. It needs to be small and light weight.
  2. It needs to be comfortable on a cat collar
  3. It needs to be suitable weather proof – while everyone says cats don’t like water it turns out my cat comes home quite wet quite often during rain storms.
  4. The battery needs to last long enough to track the cat down
  5. The system needs to be able to track the cat down fast enough so that you can get to them in time.

If you consider all of this needs to fit in a device that weights just a few grams and is smaller than an average smart watch it becomes quite challenging.

Options

Ultimately you have two choices with regard to the technology you decide to use.

  1. Radio frequency or BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy)
  2. GPS

Each has their pros and cons

Radio frequency or BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy)

The devices can be much smaller and provide for a much longer battery life – about 3 to 6 months depending on how often you use them. They essentially work by sending and receiving small signals. The cat wears a small device and the owner has a remote to activate the beacon. The range is very limited. In normal unobstructed operation you can get up to about 120 meters. However if there are obstructions like walls, trees or even vehicles you range begins to drop substantially. Much like the wifi in a house and obstructions reduces your wifi quality.

In practical terms if your pet goes missing and you walk around your house and your neighborhood you will likely pick up a signal at some point. The trouble is sometimes cats wonder… and they can wonder quite far which means you will need to wonder to within range to pick up a signal.

GPS

GPS comes with a whole host of additional challenges. GPS is much more power intensive giving your device battery life a few days at best. In addition to a shorter battery life the device also needs an internet connection so it can broadcast the gps co-ordinates to an app of some sort so you know where your pet is. Lastly due to the more technologically advanced solution the device ends up being alot bigger. Its about the size of a smart watch.

A key advantage with GPS is that you will be able to find your pet from wherever you are. It also allows you to log their location which gives you the added advantage in knowing which areas they like to visit to sleep during the day or visit at night.

If your cat does go missing you have a short window to find them. Once the battery goes flat, it goes flat!

I’ve used both technologies. The first was a brand called Loc8tor which is a very robust product. I imported it so paid a few rand more but since doing that their are many local suppliers. This is a short range RF unit.

The other is called Alleycat which is a local supplier. I decided to use Alleycat because it was local. Its draw back was that it used the cell network. I would have been happier with a new network called Squidnet (Sigfox outside of the country). In summary Squidnet/Sigfox is a network designed to run Internet of Things devices which have a lower running cost and better battery life because the devices are designed to be run on batteries that get changed less frequently.

In my opinion based on both my techie geeknes and practicality both serve an important role in the cat tracking space.

One of my cats like to wonder but is also quite friendly and responsive to calling. When I need to track her I can look at the GPS location of where she is and go to that general location, call her and she comes running. If the battery gets low I can easily recharge the device.

Another one is very skittish. He doesn’t like it when you take off his collar to charge the GPS. Even though a GPS gives a better trackability he would be better suited to a longer lasting solution.

Dog tracking is considerably easier in some respects especially when the dog gets bigger because they can carry a bigger device. Which the internal workings remain much the same the battery can be much bigger.

I’m quite happy to have a chat with you directly if you have some questions about the technology or how it works. Contact me.