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A Cape May Company Developed “Shazam for Bird Calls”

Provided by CTT
Shown is Cellular Tracking Technology’s newest development. Named ‘Terra,’ the device uses AI and cellular technology to recognize bird songs and identify the birds,

By Christopher South

ERMA – Cellular Tracking Technology moved into the Cape May County Airport complex in 2019 and was up and running in 2020. The company was founded on the idea of creating lightweight tracking devices that use cellular technology to place on birds to track their flight patterns. Now, the tech company has developed Terra – a system that uses artificial intelligence to recognize the bird songs, and the birds, that come into your backyard.

According to Casey Halverson, chief operating officer of CTT, the uses for Terra range from identifying the birds that are visiting your birdfeeder based on their sounds, to identifying flight patterns of birds across continents.

Shown is a close-up of a Terra – a device that will recognize bird songs and identify the bird. The device has appeal for the amateur birder and scientists alike.

Back in 2007, Halverson and Mike Lanzone, who had asked for help tracking Golden eagles, began working on a new type of tracking device that used the same technology as then-contemporary cellular phones, which includes GPS. CTT, at its founding, was funded through the Kickstarter crowd-funding source.

“We had probably 1,000 backers or so,” Halverson said. “We bootstrapped the money for the (research and development) to develop the product.”

From that point forward, CTT has been involved in various products, often in the agriculture industry, such as tracking rats in orchards. CTT has developed trackers for sea birds that can withstand water and depth, in the case of diving birds. They have also developed a penguin tracker for use in Antarctica that can also measure salinity levels in water.

In general, the tracking devices identify the character of bird species, identifying their foraging habits and range, and how deep, for example, a penguin dives for food. Many of CTT’s clients are universities, which study birding habits and work with agriculture.

Halverson said there are opportunities to be involved in anything in the sciences, as well as with governmental agencies. CTT has been involved in tracking California condors, and snowy owls, which fly as far north as the Canadian Arctic.

“We have trackers on deer for research in New York state,” Halverson said.

Casey Halverson, left, and Mike Lanzone, right, are the chief operating officer and chief executive officer, respectively for Cellular Tracking Technologies. Photo Credit: Christopher South.

The Terra technology, he said, would allow researchers to look at population trends, where birds are flying, eating and resting. For the homeowner, it would allow individuals to identify birds in their backyards without any sort of training.

The birds carrying radio tags, he said, would ping off your Terra, using machine learning to listen to the sounds in your backyard. Halverson said the technology used is similar to that of the “Shazam” app, which will identify songs using a short sample of the song picked up by your phone’s microphone. Terra simply identifies birds.

“It will always be in your backyard, listening, analyzing, identifying what is at your bird feeder,” Halverson said.

He said the market demographic is birdwatchers, amateur scientists, community citizen scientists who might be interested in collecting scientific data – or anyone who has a birdfeeder and would like to know what has been visiting the feeder today – day or night. For these people, CTT is trying to keep the Terra device at an affordable price. The home system, he said, would be in the $200 to $250 range.

“This came about because, I think, we were trying to bring the outside indoors,” Halverson said. “And listening to natural sounds is relaxing. And a person can tune into something real – that is one big part of Terra.”

CTT tracking devices, he said, allow for the passive tracking of birds and other wildlife, and will aid in tracking migration.

“Just think of thousands of Terra across the world that can track migration passively. It’s just another tool in the toolbox,” Halverson said, “and it was designed and manufactured in Cape May County.”

Casey Halverson shows a line of tracking devices that weigh about 60 milligrams, roughly the weight of one grain of rice, and which are light enough to attach to butterfly wings. Photo Credit: Christopher South.

CTT arrived in Cape May County in 2015 and moved into the Tech Village in 2020. Presently, about 40 people are working in various phases of the business, including the manufacture of a tiny device used to track Monarch butterflies.

For years it was known that Monarchs pass through Cape May County on their way to the mountains outside of Mexico City, Mexico, however, Halverson said, there was not a lot known about what path they take. He said it took a lot of effort to track Monarchs based on the stickers applied to the butterflies’ wings, and in the end, it only told you where they came from. Halverson said CTT developed the “Blue Morpho” tag, which is named for a butterfly. The tag, which uses Bluetooth technology, weighs about 60 mg.

“Think of a grain of rice with a solar panel on it,” Halverson said. “This will track the migration patterns of Monarchs, which no one has ever done.”

Halverson said the goal is to keep the weight of the tracking device down to 3% of the animal’s weight, or less so that the animal is not impeded or harmed. The goal is always to figure out how to attach tracking devices safely and humanely.

“This is weight-appropriate,” Halverson said, indicating the small monitor. “The tag will also talk to your phone in addition to the tracking monitor, and you can watch a day in the life of Monarch, see where the food sources are, what are the facts…”

He said there are a lot of monitoring groups ordering products from CTT. He said in the case of the California condor, there are only about 400 remaining, and the idea is to protect these birds. He said a lot of work is being done with wind farms, developing devices that alert the windmills when a condor is too close and shut them down.

Shown is a machine that will print circuit boards for CTT trackers. Photo Credit: Christopher South

“We get multiple calls every day for a new product to track another animal,” Halverson said.

CTT has a new line of tracking devices targeting marine animals using satellite technology, water sensors and depth sensors. CTT has one designed for the Great White shark Halverson said should be ready to go this year. They helped another customer track deer on Staten Island. He said this could even be done with the coyote, which concerns a lot of people in Cape May County and beyond.

Halverson said there are a lot of assumptions made about animal behaviors and migration patterns, for example, but there is not a lot of data. He said CTT gives scientists the tools to see movement patterns and wildlife behaviors. Halverson said it is always exciting to see the data come in.

CTT, he said, is producing cellular tracking devices from the design to the manufacture from software development to building circuit boards. He said this broad spectrum of duties allows CTT to hire people with various tech backgrounds and give them the option to work in Cape May County rather than go to college and never come back. He said CTT has had people move to Cape May County to join their team.

They also offer opportunities in the manufacturing end of the business to people who might not come from a tech background, but who can perform work precisely and reliably. He said they have also received state funding to give on-the-job training.

“We’ve had a really nice batting average with on-the-job training,” he said.

And next time you hear a bird call in your back yard, consider a Terra.

Thoughts? Questions? Call Christopher South at 609-886-8600 x-128 or email csouth@cmcherald.com

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