Dronee's Loko Is a Tiny Open Source LoRa Asset Tracker with 10km Range, Year-Long Battery Life

Long-range low-power GNSS tracker lightweight enough to strap to drones — and tough enough to take a crash, its creators claim.

Colorado-based Dronee is preparing to launch an open source asset tracker, designed to combine Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) support with a long-range low-power LoRa radio uplink — with the promise of up to a year of tracking per charge.

"Loko is an open source, battery operated GPS tracker," Tomi Piriyev, co-founder of Dronee alongside his two brothers, writes. "It’s a tiny, simple, useful device that sends navigation data to its receiver via peer to peer LoRa radio. Unlike other similar technologies, there is no ongoing cost. Loko is radio communication based and doesn’t require a SIM-card/monthly fee. It also works anywhere, even if there is no 2G/3G/LTE coverage."

The Loko is a tiny low-power asset tracker, offering year-long battery life and a 10km range. (📹: Dronee)

The tracking portion of Loko is a tiny transmitter, dubbed the Air Unit, which weighs just 12g (around 0.42oz). Its creators claim the transmitter is water resistant, rustproof, and "designed for harsh conditions" — including crashes, when used to track an airborne drone.

The transmitter supports GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo GNNS constellations with 33-channel tracking and 99-channel acquisition, while the LoRa transceiver — which is compatible with LoRaWAN — supports transmission on the full worldwide legal frequency range, including 868MHz in the EU and 915MHz in the US and Australia.

A key selling point of the device: a long battery life, which can go from over 30 days to around a year per charge of its internal battery depending on how frequently it transmits its position. The transmitter can also be powered from USB or another 5V source — and it automatically switches itself on when external power is provided, just in case you forget.

Paired to the Air Unit is the Ground Unit, a receiver with LoRa and Bluetooth 4 support. In battery mode, the Ground Unit can be paired with an iPhone for use with a custom application; alternatively, it can be hooked up to a laptop or desktop. The paired system is operable at ranges over 10km (around 6.2 miles), its creators claim.

Dronee's design is also fully open source, with everything published to a GitHub repository under the permissive MIT license. As of the last commit, the hardware was complete and stable with work still underway on the firmware.

Dronee is preparing to launch a crowdfunding campaign for the Loko on Crowd Supply, with interested parties invited to sign up to be notified when the campaign goes live.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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