Battery-operated GPS tracker for vehicles, containers and construction site materials

May 4, 2019

The battery-powered Lobaro GPS-Tracker with LoRaWAN wireless technology is suitable for determining the position of moving objects such as vehicles, containers or construction site materials. It is configured via the USB interface and can be powered by 2 AA Mignon batteries. It has a relatively small housing that can be connected to other objects by means of two screws.

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Product name: Lobaro GPS tracker
Category: GPS tracker

 

 

The most important features at a glance

  • LoRa / LoRaWAN 1.1
  • Also available upon request with NB-IoT or LTE 4G
  • Power supply: 2x AA batteries (1.5V) or NiMH battery (1.2V)
  • several years of battery life
  • Sensors:
    • GPS
    • Location / vibration
    • Temperature (±0.5°C accuracy)
    • Battery voltage (ADC)
  • iinternal antenna and U.FL solder pad (for optional external antenna)
  • Dimensions: 114.30mm (W) x 59.30mm (L) x 26.80mm (H)
  • optional: waterproof, potting epoxy resin (see IP65)
  • Certifications: CE, RoHS, WEEE

Unboxing – housing and processing

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The GPS tracker is encased in a white housing which can be attached to other objects by means of two screws. The dimensions are 114,30mm (W) x 59,30mm (L) x 26,80mm (H). According to the website, the sensor is water resistant as it is made from an epoxy, but our test sample was not an epoxy casting. Since the configuration takes place via a serial USB adapter, encapsulation could also be carried out only after the configuration.

Power is supplied by two commercially available Mignon (AA) batteries. Either dry batteries or rechargeable batteries can be used.

Connections

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The GPS tracker has no other ports or buttons besides the port for the serial USB adapter. Only one green LED is installed on the board. The LED is only visible when the housing cover is open.

Configuration and operation

A serial USB adapter cable is needed for the configuration . This adapter cable fits on various Lobaro LoRaWAN devices and can be ordered from the thingsHUB Market. It is not included with the GPS tracker.

Settings can be made via the USB connection, firmware updates can be uploaded, or the logs of the GPS tracker can be read in real time. For this purpose, the manufacturer provides the MAINTENANCE TOOL. It is a free tool for Windows, Linux and Mac which first searches the USB ports for connected devices, then starts a small web server and then uses the web browser of the respective operating system for displaying the user interface. This interesting and simple concept worked well on Windows and Linux during our test.

Once the GPS tracker has been configured, the adapter cable can be removed and the housing cover closed.

“Hands-on” – the how-to in individual steps

A serial USB adapter cable is needed for the next steps.

If this cable is to be connected to the GPS tracker and a Windows PC, the appropriate drivers for the Silicon Labs CP210x chipset must first be installed .

After that, the LOBARO MAINTENANCE TOOL can be started. If a connected Lobaro device is found, the web browser opens with the Lobaro user interface.

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Here you can read out the three keys necessary to provision the GPS tracker in a LoRa network server. The activation method, either OTAA or ABP, can also be selected. If the GPS tracker has been successfully created, the JOIN process will begin.

The intervals and the vibration sensitivity can now be set. The GPS tracker has two operating states:

  • “Alive” and
  • “Active”

Normally, it is in the “alive” mode and sends the GPS data in the“AliveCron” configurable interval. This could typically be done once a day to use it as a sign of life.

Should the acceleration sensor detect a vibration, the GPS tracker will change to the “Active” operating state and will send the GPS data according to the “ActiveCron” interval .

The “actTO” parameter determines how many minutes the GPS tracker will remain in the “Active” operating state. After this timeout, the GPS tracker returns to the “Alive” operating state. A new vibration during the “Active” state will not extend the timeout. Because the acceleration sensor is deactivated during the “Active” state.

The acceleration sensor is a “Lis3DH”. The sensitivity is configured via the “memsTH” parameter. The default setting “10” is very, very sensitive. The right sensitivity has to be tested on a project basis.

Every time it wakes up from sleep, the GPS tracker tries to receive the GPS coordinates. If this does not work right away, it will not try infinitely, but only for the number of seconds stored in the “gpsTO” parameter.

Log Files

Under the “LOGS” menu item, the log / debug messages of the GPS tracker are displayed in real time. Sometimes they did not show up on their own, we had to press the “Set Time” button first.

The log messages are very detailed and exemplary. The interested LoRaWAN technician will find his way around quickly. One can check out exactly what the GPS tracker is doing. This is a very welcome feature for LoRaWAN sensors, which normally do not allow insight into their internal operations and only communicate with the outside world through uplinks.

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During our test, the GPS tracker initiated a re-join, although it was still joined. This happened after we clicked “Set Time” on the Logs page in the Lobaro tool. The connection was not clear, it may have been a coincidence. At any rate, a re-join was not necessary at this time. But with OTAA as an activation method, an occasional re-join is nothing serious.

Firmware Update

During our test, it was necessary to install a firmware update. The manufacturer provided us with the firmware in the form of a binary file. The new version was easily found under “Firmware” on the menu

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We did our test with version 1.3.2 of the maintenance tool, as well as the GPS tracker firmware in version 4.0.5.

Conclusion

The LoRaWAN user will enjoy the exemplary and detailed real-time logs/debug messages. Here you can follow accurately what the GPS tracker does and how it is configured. Another example is the implementation and administration of the duty cycle restrictions. In the log files, you can read for which radio channel the duty cycle is already exhausted and how long the waiting times are for an uplink on this radio channel.

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To manage or configure a larger number of GPS trackers, configuration remotely using the LoRaWAN downlink would be desirable. In particular, if the GPS tracker is sealed watertight, this would be the only way to subsequently make changes to the configuration.

The “Set Time” in the user interface obviously only refers to the local log display; the GPS tracker always showed a wrong time despite GPS reception and the “Set Time” in the logs. This does not really matter, because event control is based on intervals rather than absolute times. However, a very accurate time alignment would be possible via GPS.

The reception of the GPS coordinates took a relatively long time in our test. After a warm start, i.e. the GPS tracker already had a GPS fix for less than 5 minutes in the same place, the tracker did not get a GPS fix for over 50 seconds even though 5 satellites were received. Only at the 6th satellite received was there a GPS fix and therewith the GPS coordinates as well. The uplink message reached the LoRa network server only 1:13 min. after the vibration of the sensor. During the test, the USB cable was not connected, because according to the manufacturer, it can deteriorate the quality of reception.

Other LoRaWAN GPS devices are much faster when receiving the GPS coordinates.

To test GPS reception quality, we monitored the number of satellites received over several days. It regularly was between 4 and 7 satellites. This is shown in an excerpt from our visualization software:

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Reference

The LoRaWAN GPS-Tracker is now available in our thingsHUB Market online shop.

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