The internet is a helpful place to find DIY projects and ideas, but how many people know that there are also plenty of tutorials out there for making your own GPS dog or cat tracker? In this blog post, we’ll show you 9 simple steps on how to do just that.
Table of Contents
DIY GPS Dog Tracker
Get a standard miniature Adruino controller, which is basically a miniature computer that can help you build a tracker module around you. Depending on the size of your dog, you might want to look at a so-called TinyDuino or a full-sized one like DorkEnergy used:
Once you have a controller in hand, you’ll need to program it to watch your dog as follows:
- Wire the TinyDuino microcontroller to a GPS TinyShield adapter, which will track the position of your dog
- Format a microSD card with the FAT32 file system
- Sideload TinyShield driver files onto it
- Fit the microSD card into the slot on the GPS receiver
- Charge the unit with a microUSB cord and a cell phone charger
- Power on the system
- Allow the microcontroller to read through the files
- Start a GPS tracking app on another smart device
- Locate the GPS tag of your controller and put the controller into an enclosure that can be mounted on a collar as soon as you’re sure it’s working
Electronics enthusiasts have developed several different ways to make a GPS dog tracker, but using an Arduino controller is by far the easiest way to do so. If you’re building your own unit from scratch, then make sure that you follow the plans you were given exactly.
The FCC has a whole bunch of rules regarding safety and interference, so you don’t want to experiment too much.
Parts Needed for a DIY GPS Dog Tracker
While you could get quite sophisticated with a GPS tracker, the only parts you truly need are a microcontroller and a GPS module. Both of these parts interface with one another and more than likely come with a power source.
You’ll need some way to charge it, which is normally done through a micro-USB cord and wall block, much like a cell phone is. If you already have these components from a phone, then you can use them to charge your newly made GPS pet tracker.
If you have a microSD card, then you won’t have to buy one of these either. Used ones can be readily found online for just a few dollars.
Since you’re going to be transferring very small amounts of data, you won’t need to invest in a particularly large one.
Average Cost to Make a DIY Dog Tracker
An Arduino controller is around $7-9, but you could build one for less if you felt like using a soldering iron. Add two or three dollars to that price for the GPS module and a few more for supplies if you don’t already have some electronics gear lying around.
Chances are that you can build one for under $25, especially if you have any experience with electronics tinkering. The software that these devices run is all open-source, which means that it’s freely distributed over the web.
If you’re at all a programmer, then you can even audit it yourself to make sure that your dog isn’t being tracked by an outside actor. Doing so won’t cost one extra dime, because open-source software distributed under the GPL documents used by dog enthusiasts is always free.
How to Make a GPS Cat Tracker
Building a GPS tracker for a cat is almost identical to building one for a dog, though you’ll want to work with lighter parts. Technologist Paul McWhorter had an interesting way of tackling the problem, which relied on an Adafruit Ultimate GPS breakout board:
You can also potentially build one more easily like so:
- Attach a small Arduino controller board to a GPS adapter to track your cat’s position
- Format a µSD or µSDHC card to FAT32
- Download a pack of controller files from GitHub
- Sideload them to the card after virus scanning them
- Charge up your microcontroller using a wall plug
- Insert the card and remove the charger
- Open up a GPS tracker or use a standalone hand GPS-tracking unit
- Locate the tag to make sure it’s working
- Mount it in a very light enclosure and attach it to your cat’s collar
Technically, you don’t have to know anything about source code to make a GPS cat tracker like this. Learning a little bit about the programming language used by Arduino-branded microcontrollers will help you to customize your GPS tracker.
Parts Needed for a DIY Cat Tracker
Depending on the exact type of codebase and GPS equipment you plan on using, you’ll probably want to invest in a standard miniature GPS chip and an Adafruit Trinket-sized microcontroller. If your system uses 5V power to charge it, then you can simply use the charger and cord that you normally would with any smartphone.
You’ll need some kind of enclosure to house the project in, but you may find that re-purposing an existing container works fine. If you use the right kind of clip, then you should find that it mounts successfully on your cat’s existing collar as well.
A small µSD card is needed to transfer code, but there’s a good chance you have at least one you can use for this lying around.
Average Cost to Make a DIY Cat Tracker
Cat GPS tracker kits could cost more than those designed for dogs because you usually need to invest in smaller and lighter components. The difference shouldn’t be that great, however.
An Adafruit Trinket mini CPU controller costs around $10 or so and you could find a GPS module that doesn’t cost much more than that. Your entire project shouldn’t cost much more than maybe $25-30.
You can make your own light plastic enclosure out of a small bit of packing material, which would cost essentially nothing if you already have it lying around. That being said, you don’t want to use anything that your cat could easily swallow.
No interest in making your own and rather buy a GPS pet tracker? Check out our full article where we review all the best pet tracker models out there.