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New tracking technology: Botswanan big cats to Surrey house cats

New tracking technology - 13 June 2013. Structure & Motion Lab RVC

Scientists who designed GPS tracking collars to study hunting cheetahs in Botswana have miniaturised them to track 50 domestic cats in a Surrey village for a BBC programme. The BBC also deployed cat-cams which were turned on by the collar's activity sensor when the cat was moving. 'The Secret Life of The Cat' is broadcast on BBC Two's Horizon programme on Thursday, June 13 2013 at 21:00.

Professor Alan Wilson with Toby the cat. Structure & Motion Lab RVC
Professor Alan Wilson with Toby the cat. Image: Structure & Motion Lab RVC

In a first study of its kind the wanderings of our feline friends were recorded, revealing how far they roamed and what they got up to once they leave their owners behind.

Professor Alan Wilson, from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), University of London and his team are currently studying the locomotion of cheetah in research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The research, published in the journal Nature, led to the development of a new tracking collar containing a combination of Global Positioning System (GPS) and inertial measurement units (motion sensors). It was used to capture the locomotor dynamics and outcome of the hunting runs of five wild cheetahs in Botswana. Their innovative collars have recorded hunting cheetahs at a top speed of 58mph as well as the first data on the animal's acceleration and manoeuvres.

Professor Wilson said: "If we understand an animal's speed and manoeuvrability we will be able to see how managing habitats will have an impact on predators and hunting."

Back in the UK the team used their expertise to design the technology for the study on domestic cats for BBC Two's Horizon programme. They designed the protocol, programmed the collars, and analysed the data of the domestic cat.

Cat sensor. Structure & Motion Lab RVC
Cat sensor. Image: Structure & Motion Lab RVC

Professor Wilson said:"Our motivation for getting involved in the programme is to showcase scientific research methods to the public and demonstrate science is cool. It's an excellent large-scale deployment opportunity for our tracking collars and the analysis tools used for our studies on wild animals. Ironically we knew more about cheetahs than domestic cats, until this study."


About the EPSRC

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

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