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Why should you care about penguins in the Falkland Islands?


We have been helping the Max Planck Institute in Germany with a research project in the Falkland Islands. Although this project is very specific, it uses some features common in industrial applications:

  • Identification using Texas Instruments' RFID tags, used in industry for tracking jigs, trolleys, bulk containers, operators, vehicles, etc.
  • Dynamic, in-motion weighing, used in a range of applications from vehicles down to conveyor-belt checkweighers for packaged goods
  • Internal database memory to record data; this can also be used for reference data (e.g. product or customer lists) and read/write data (e.g. parts counting)
  • Interface to a host PC to transfer data; in this case using a standard RS232 serial port but other interfaces are available such as RS485, radio modems, Ethernet (wired and wireless), Bluetooth, etc.
  • Digital I/O to trigger events

The birds being studied each have an RFID tag while on the scale there is an antenna to detect which bird is passing. The scale is placed strategically between the nesting site and the feeding grounds and as the bird passes over the scale plate it triggers photo-cells either side to start weighing. The scale weighs the birds whilst in motion and logs the recorded weight together with the RFID tag number and direction of travel in an internal database. The researchers can then upload the data for later analysis of patterns and behaviour over the breeding season. The equipment is powered by an external battery backed up by two solar panels.


The indicator used is a GSE 562 indicator equipped with additional internal database memory and the data is uploaded to a laptop using the GSE Wedge software. The photo-cells connect to the two standard inputs on the indicator and the RFID tag reader sends the tag ID to the serial port.


You may notice in the video that the penguins jump off the rock and then walk smartly across the platform (between the two reflectors for the photo-cells). This breed of penguins (rockhoppers) tends to jump on uneven ground and rocks but the birds do walk normally on flat ground. Unfortunately, they were unsure about the equipment as it appeared alien to them and at first they stopped before the platform and then hopped across to get over it as quickly as possible; understandably this did not give very good weighing results. The researchers found that by placing rocks before and after the platform the birds stopped, hopped on to the platform and then walked across giving much better weighing results. However, there were occasions (thankfully rare) when the scales were somewhat overwhelmed, as in the video below.






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