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Telemetry (synonymous with telematics) is a technology that allows remote measurement and reporting of information. The word is derived from Greek roots tele = remote, and metron = measure. Systems that need external instructions and data to operate require the counterpart of telemetry, telecommand.

Although the term commonly refers to wireless data transfer mechanisms (eg. using radio or infrared systems), it also encompasses data transferred over other media, such as a telephone or computer network, optical link or other wired communications.


Telemetering information over wire had its origins in the 19th century. One of the first data transmission circuits was developed in 1845 between the Russian Tsar's Winter Palace and the army's headquarters. In 1874, French engineers built a system of weather and snow-depth sensors on Mont Blanc that transmitted real-time information to Paris. In 1901 the American inventor C. Michalke patented the selsyn, a circuit for sending synchronized rotation information over distances. In 1906, a set of seismic stations were built with telemetering to the Pulkovo Observatory in Russia. In 1912, Commonwelth Edison developed a system of telemetry to monitor electrical loads on its power grid. The Panama Canal (completed 1913-1914) used extensive telemetry systems to monitor locks and water levels.

Wireless telemetry made early appearances in the radiosonde developed concurrently in 1930 by Robert Bureau in France and Pavel Molchanov in Russia. Mochanov's system modulated temperature and pressure measurements by converting them into wireless Morse code. The German V-2 rocket used a system of primitive multiplexed radio signals called "Messina" to report 4 rocket parameters, but it was so unreliable that Von Braun once claimed it was more useful to watch the rocket through binoculars. In both the USA and USSR, the Messina system was quickly replaced with better systems, in both cases based on pulse-position modulation..

Early Soviet missile and space telemetry systems developed in the late 1940s used either pulse-position modulation (e.g., the Tral telemetry system developed by OKB-MEI) or pulse-duration modulation (e.g., the RTS-5 system developed by NII-885). In the USA, early work employed similar systems, but were later replaced by pulse-code modulation, for example in the Mars probe Mariner-4. Later Soviet interplanetary probes used redundant radio systems, transmitting telemetry by PCM on a decimeter band and PPM on a centimeter band.



Most activities related to healthy crops and good yields depend on timely availability of weather and soil data. Therefore, wireless weather stations play a major role in disease prevention and precision irrigation. These stations transmit major parameters needed for good decisions to a base station: air temperature and relative humidity, precipitation and leaf wetness (for disease prediction models), solar radiation and wind speed (to calculate evapotranspiration), and sometimes also soil moisture, crucial to understand the progress of water into soil and roots for irrigation decisions.

Because local micro-climates can vary significantly, such data needs to come from right within the crop. Monitoring stations usually transmit data back by terrestrial radio though occasionally satellite systems are used. Solar power is often employed to make the station independent from local infrastructure.

Water management

Telemetry has become indispensable for water management applications, including water quality and stream gauging functions. Major applications include AMR (automatic meter reading), groundwater monitoring, leak detection in distribution pipelines and equipment surveillance. Having data available in almost real time allows quick reactions to occurrences in the field.

Defense, space and resource exploration systems

Telemetry is an enabling technology for large complex systems such as missiles, RPVs, spacecraft, oil rig and chemical plants because it allows automatic monitoring, alerting, and record-keeping necessary for safe, efficient operations. Space agencies such as NASAmarker, ESAmarker, and other agencies use telemetry/telecommand systems to collect data from operating spacecraft and satellites.

Telemetry is vital in the development phase of missiles, satellites and aircraft because the system might be destroyed after/during the test. Engineers need critical system parameters to analyze (and improve) the performance of the system. Without telemetry, these data would often be unavailable.


In rocketry, telemetry equipment forms an integral part of the rocket range assets used to monitor the progress of a rocket launch.Some special problems are the extreme environment (temperature, accelerations, vibrations...), the energy supply, the precise alignment of the antenna and (at long distances, e.g. in spaceflight) the signal travel time.

Enemy intelligence

Telemetry was a vital source of intelligence for the US and UK when Sovietmarker missiles were tested. For this purpose, the US operated a listening post in Iranmarker. Eventually, the Soviets discovered this kind of US intelligence gathering and encrypted their telemetry signals of missile tests. Telemetry was a vital source for the Soviets who would operate listening ships in Cardigan Baymarker to eavesdrop on the UK missile tests carried out there.

Energy monitoring

In factories, buildings and houses, energy consumption of systems such as HVAC are monitored at multiple locations, together with the related parameters (e.g. temperature) via wireless telemetry to one central location. The information is collected and processed enabling intelligent decisions regarding the most efficient use of energy to be implemented. Such systems also facilitate predictive maintenance.

Resource distribution

Many resources need to be distributed over wide areas. Telemetry is essential in these cases, since it allows the system to channel resources to where they are needed.

Motor racing

Telemetry has been a key factor in modern motor racing. Engineers are able to interpret the vast amount of data collected during a test or race, and use that to properly tune the car for optimum performance. Systems used in some series, namely Formula One, have become advanced to the point where the potential lap time of the car can be calculated and this is what the driver is expected to meet. Some examples of useful measurements on a race car include accelerations (G forces) in 3 axis, temperature readings, wheel speed, and the displacement of the suspension. In Formula 1, the driver inputs are also recorded so that the team can assess driver performance and, in the case of an accident, the FIA can determine or rule out driver error as a possible cause.

In addition, there exist some series where "two way" telemetry is allowed. Two way telemetry suggests that engineers have the ability to update calibrations on the car in real time, possibly while it is out on the track. In Formula 1, two-way telemetry surfaced in the early nineties from TAG electronics, and consisted of a message display on the dashboard which the team could update. Its development continued until May 2001, at which point it was first allowed on the cars. By 2002 the teams were able to change engine mapping and deactivate particular engine sensors from the pits while the car was on track. For the 2003 season, the FIA banned two-way telemetry from Formula 1, however the technology still exists and could eventually find its way into other forms of racing or road cars.

In addition to that telemetry has also been applied to the use of Yacht racing. The technology was applied to the Oracle's USA-76.


Telemetry also is used for patients (biotelemetry) who are at risk of abnormal heart activity, generally in a coronary care unit. Such patients are outfitted with measuring, recording and transmitting devices. A data log can be useful in diagnosis of the patient's condition by doctor. An alerting function can alert nurses if the patient is suffering from an acute or dangerous condition.

Also a system that is available in medical-surgical nursing to monitor a condition where heart condition may be ruled out. Or to monitor a response to antiarrhythmic medications such as Digoxin.

Fisheries and wildlife research and management

Telemetry is now being used to study wildlife, and has been particularly useful for monitoring threatened species at the individual level. Animals under study may be fitted with instrumentation ranging from simple tags to cameras, GPS packages and transceivers to provide position and other basic information to scientists and stewards.

Telemetry is used in hydroacoustic assessments for fish which have traditionally employed mobile surveys from boats to evaluate fish biomass and spatial distributions. Conversely, fixed-location techniques use stationary transducers to monitor passing fish. While the first serious attempts to quantify fish biomass were conducted in the 1960s, major advances in equipment and techniques took place at hydropower dams in the 1980’s. Some evaluations monitored fish passage 24 hours a day for over a year, producing estimates of fish entrainment rates, fish sizes, and spatial and temporal distributions.

In the 1970’s, the dual-beam technique was invented, permitting direct estimation of fish size in-situ via its target strength. The first portable split-beam hydroacoustic system was developed by HTI in 1991, and provided more accurate and less variable estimates of fish target strength than the dual-beam method. It also permitted tracking of fish in 3D, giving each fish’s swimming path and absolute direction of movement. This feature proved important for evaluations of entrained fish in water diversions as well as for studies of migratory fish in rivers. In the last 35 years, tens of thousands of mobile and fixed-location hydroacoustic evaluations have been conducted worldwide.

Retail businesses

At a 2005 workshop in Las Vegas, a seminar noted the introduction of telemetry equipment that would allow vending machines to communicate sales and inventory data to a route truck or to a headquarters . This data could be used for a variety of purposes, such as eliminating the need for the driver to make a first trip to see what items need to be restocked before bringing the inventory inside.

Retailers are also beginning to make use of RFID tags to track inventory and prevent shoplifting. Most of these tags passively respond to RFID readers (e.g. at the cashier), but active RFID tags are available that periodically transmit telemetry to a base station.

Law enforcement

Telemetry hardware is useful for tracking persons and property in law enforcement. An ankle collar worn by convicts on probation can warn authorities if a person violates the terms of his or her parole, such as by straying from authorized boundaries or visiting an unauthorized location. Telemetry equipment has also given rise to the concept of bait cars, where law enforcement can rig a car with cameras and tracking equipment and leave it somewhere they expect it to be stolen. When stolen, the telemetry equipment reports the location of the vehicle, and gives law enforcement the ability to deactivate the engine and lock the doors once it is intercepted.

International standards

As in other telecommunications fields, international standards exist for telemetry equipment and software. CCSDS and IRIG are such standards.

See also


External links

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