NB-IoT technology lends wings to reindeer husbandry in Oulu

In Oulu, long-standing traditions in reindeer management are being combined with the latest technology. Oulu is home to Anicare Oy, which makes the Rudolf device. The company’s goal is to bring reindeer husbandry into the 2020s and make herders’ lives easier through digitalisation.

This is no surprise, as Anicare’s CEO Aki Marttila has followed developments in reindeer husbandry at close range for a long time. Reindeer management has always been part of his family’s life. As a young boy, Marttila was given his own reindeer earmark as a birthday present.  An earmark is a kind of brand that enables a reindeer’s owner to be identified. In 2018, after having trained and worked in the tech industry, he got the opportunity to combine his two great passions.

“I’ve always been interested in technology and have spent a long time working for international companies in R&D. While I’ve become very familiar with consumer products and electronics in particular, I didn’t want to forget my roots, and so I’ve also tried to spend plenty of time in the reindeer forests caring for my herd. This idea sprang from those trips,” says Anicare’s CEO Aki Marttila.

The end result was the Rudolf device, which enables a reindeer’s health and location to be monitored via a mobile app.

Lost animals pose one of the biggest challenges in reindeer husbandry, as about ten per cent of the population disappears and only about one in five lost reindeer are found. Rudolf enables even individual reindeer to be tracked. The device also monitors changes in the reindeer’s health, so that illnesses or other declines in functionality can be detected quickly and easily.

“The average age of reindeer herders in Lapland is already getting quite high, and a generational change typically means that a smaller number of people own more reindeer. And the more reindeer you are responsible for, the more laborious it is to take care of them. If this can be made easier with the aid of modern technology, then it’s definitely worth it,” says Marttila.

Coverage is rewarded in the reindeer forest

As the sensors are intended to operate in the middle of forests and fells, you really need to choose the right technology. NB-IoT’s comprehensive network and low power consumption come into their own in a product that is used for long periods of time in challenging places. 

The device provides the reindeer’s location once a week and otherwise only reports deviations.

“Rudolf does not actively collect data online. It sends the reindeer’s location once a week and otherwise reports unfavourable changes in the reindeer’s health. This enables battery life of up to five years. It was particularly important to find technology that would guarantee coverage even in challenging terrain,” says Aki Marttila.

Marttila’s R&D background in the tech industry was an advantage in developing Rudolf. Competing models have been designed to be worn around a reindeer’s neck, but Rudolf is attached to the ear. This doesn’t bother the reindeer. Being attached to the ear also means that there is nothing above the device to interfere with the signal, which helps guarantee the best possible coverage.

NB-IoT enables the transfer of large volumes of data.

Although speed is not one of NB-IoT’s strengths, it can still transfer even large volumes of data when required. This makes it very easy to get new features and other updates onto every user’s device.

“We thought very carefully about suitable technology, and NB-IoT was undoubtedly the best option for both the conditions and optimal device functionality,” says Marttila.

Reindeer herding enters the 2020s through digitalisation

Although Anicare currently operates only in Finland, the company intends to expand into other Nordic countries, which offer a potential customer base of up to 600,000 reindeer. In time, Rudolf could also be used for other livestock, such as cattle, but the CEO is taking a cautious approach to expansion.

“Let’s stay focused on the company’s current business and create a firm foundation for the product. In no way do we want to get carried away and start heading off in all kinds of directions. Instead, we want to grow our business calmly and thoughtfully by providing our customers with the best possible service,” says Aki Marttila.

Younger generations of reindeer herders are interested in supporting their work with a variety of technical solutions.

In recent years, digitalisation has also reared its head in more traditional fields, and reindeer management is already using drones to observe herds from the air. Younger generations of reindeer herders in particular are interested in studying and comparing the various technical solutions that can facilitate or boost the efficiency of their work. In the future, technology may even be able to prevent animals from falling ill or getting into traffic accidents.

“There will soon be a generation that has grown up with smartphones, and the threshold for adopting technology is already low. They’ve already found the existing solutions and will certainly be interested in any future potential for facilitating their work and maintaining their animals’ health,” says Marttila.