LoRa Wireless Communication in the Field

I saw this in Hackaday and it led to the discovery of other similar systems.

It seems like this kind of off-grid, distributed LoRa wireless communication network could help when doing research work in areas with unstable/no Internet connectivity.

The units in the article work with an Android texting app, but it would make sense to also include the ability to connect sensors and instruments to it as well. There are existing LoRa protocols and networks for sensor and IoT data. So that leads me to two questions.

  1. Am I correct in feeling like this would be useful for research purposes?
  2. Does something like this already exist that is suitable for field use?
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Thanks @jmwright!

  1. Am I correct in feeling like this would be useful for research purposes?

YES, as a bona fide academic researcher with real field experience in multiple countries, something like this is potentially super useful.

  1. Does something like this already exist that is suitable for field use?

I’ve seen ad-hoc set ups of technology similar to this, but AFAIK this isn’t super standardised yet in the (ecological) research community. I think what’s more established are animal tracking tags that communicate with satellites, not LoRa stuff.

That said, how “low power” is this thing? In my research experience, you need really, super-duper low power for it to be practical. For example, the motion-triggered camera traps I worked with can be autonomously deployed in the field for several months at time, running on only battery power without solar panels or other inputs. Would LoRa work in this context?

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I’m not an expert with LoRa by any means, but I do know that there are numerous LoRa sensors and gateways that can run on battery for extended periods, but maybe not with continuous send/receive capability. I believe that LoRa systems are often paired with solar power systems as well.

This link provides a lot more depth of information and charts for determining runtime.

This link is (I think) a pretty straight forward example use case.

So, long battery life is possible with LoRa, but most techniques keep the device in sleep mode for most of the time. When paired with solar systems I expect that continuous operation (send/receive) of a LoRa gateway should be well within reason though.

Another thing about LoRa is that it’s low bandwidth. So for the camera traps it would work fine to send text alerts or string sensor data, but probably not as well for sending image data, and I think sending video data would be difficult and maybe even impractical. I would need to research that more.

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@hpy Is a network of this type only useful to you if it could transmit photo and video data, or is telemetry enough? In my mind telemetry would be data such as number of camera triggers, trigger entries with timestamps, battery level, etc. Devices could also check in with a heartbeat periodically so that it’s possible to know when a device stops working (dead battery, damaged, etc).

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Hi @jmwright. For use cases I’ve seen, just telemetry would be more than enough, no need to transmit actual data (photos/videos/other). Indeed the heartbeat info you enumerated would be very useful, especially to alert cases of malfunction or low battery.