Product spotlight: Terrestrial Crittercam

Mar 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

What it is: A camera system that is about a half cubic inch in size that can be attached to various land animals using a special collar or harness to examine them in their natural habitats without disturbing their normal activities.

The system renders 340 lines of resolution (a much higher-resolution system is in development) and is sensitive down to 3 lux (about the same light level as a moonless night). Using a simple whip antenna, it transmits up to 500 feet. (One test with a yagi antenna transmitted up to 5 miles.) Weight varies depending on the duration of use, which determines the battery used: a nine-volt battery for short-term, a 1-pound battery for a week. It is being tested on cats and dogs. There are plans to use the cameras on grizzly bears in Alaska this summer and later to examine the lives of feral cats and peregrine falcons.

Provider: National Geographic Television.

Background: National Geographic has been experimenting with Crittercams on aquatic animals (see photo) for 15 years. Footage has appeared in programs such as “Great White Shark” and “Sea Monsters,” which aired on NBC, as well as “Tiger Shark” on CNBC last year. The technology improved to a camera 10 inches long and 3.5 inches in diameter with a weight slightly less than 2.5 pounds. (The weight is virtually nothing underwater.) According to Greg Marshall, National Geographic Television’s director of special projects, the equipment doesn’t restrict their behavior-though he concedes 40- to 50-pound penguins’ dives are 20 percent shorter when the animals are harnessed to the Crittercam. Other attachments include suction cups (whales) and dorsal fin clips (sharks).

Compact circuitry and wireless technologies have finally enabled the Crittercam to be small and light enough to go terrestrial this year.

Benefits: “Underwater you can’t transmit the images and data, you can just record for future playback-you have to recover the system,” Mr. Marshall noted. “For the terrestrial version, we’re taking advantage of new technologies and the fact that we can transmit the images, not just record them.”