'My dog's job is to track wild game. My job is to bring them home safely at all costs.' – Jerry Smith, Rincon Creek Guides & Outfitters
There is an undeniable bond between sporting dogs, their trainers and hunting partners. This is a relationship in which each is willing to push the limits of their own physical and mental endurance, in the most grueling environments, to ensure the well-being and success of the other. Each detail of the Garmin Alpha 200i multi-dog tracker/trainer was designed with this bond in mind. The Alpha 200i is not simply a piece of technology, but a purpose-built tool for connecting a trainer to their dogs and to loved ones at home. The first sporting dog device with inReach satellite communication technology, Alpha 200i redefines what it means to stay safe and connected in the great outdoors.
For Alpha 200i, our team's goal was to craft a tool driven by user and dog needs that would integrate with the natural hunting experience. With highly trained dogs from sound bloodlines costing northwards of $10,000 it was crucial for this product to consider the dog as much as the trainer. An essential part of this development was collaborating with a second-generation cattle-rancher, sporting-guide, and dog trainer as he worked his pack of 20+ dogs in the field. This provided insights into methodologies of training, how dog performance and health were analyzed pre and post-hunt, and the struggles experienced when operating complex devices in harsh weather and terrain. We heard stories of grueling multi-day backcountry hunts, unprepared 'city-slickers' and harrowing rescues of dogs and trainers injured in the field. These experiences and stories set the tone for our work, which would focus on a strategy that amplified critical touch-points, technology and dog awareness.
Based on our research, we concluded that neither a sole analogue nor digital UI could achieve the uncompromised usability that trainers required in the field. Alpha 200i would instead require a carefully considered interface that provided a modern digital experience and UX flow, along with a more traditional physical UI that allowed for immediate, instinctual actions in the field. Our challenge was ensuring that each UI element had a specific, function-driven purpose that took advantage of each interface archetype's inherit advantages, while ensuring no duplications within the overall UI structure. This would lead to a product more approachable to a younger generation of trainers while streamlining the workflow for those with decades of experience.
A 3.5", sunlight readable, touchscreen display was implemented to simplify the setup of multiple dog profiles, the review of performance metrics, and to provide a map experience that parallels those found on modern mobile devices. It also serves as the primary interface for sending inReach-based text messages and SOS information via the Iridium satellite network, allowing trainers to stay connected to family and friends during extended trips into the backcountry.
While advantageous for the tasks outlined above, we observed users adjusting their natural behaviors to interface with touchscreen devices in the field. Single-handed device operation was often observed as users prioritized the safe handling of horses, vehicles and firearms over their touch-screen. Hands had to be removed from gloves in cold weather, movements requiring fine levels of finger dexterity were difficult to perform, and precipitation hindered touchscreen responsiveness. To resolve these issues, discrete side buttons were added to the Alpha 200i to ensure that crucial data pages and maps were quickly accessible in all field conditions. To prevent users from having to learn a new training interface, a traditional, three-button layout was implemented on the face of the product allowing users to communicate quickly and effectively with their dogs to modify behavior and ensure safety. A physical inReach SOS button was also added to ensure that an emergency signal could be sent in the event that the display was broken in the backcountry. A spring-loaded, low-profile aluminum door was designed to protect the button from accidental actuation. The vibrant orange, anodized finish ensures the feature can be easily located by all members of a hunting party should the device owner themselves become injured.
Due to the rugged environments the Alpha 200i operates in (and the potential for it to be used as a life-saving device), a durable polycarbonate resin blend was selected for the housings that blend a modern, tactical form language with details derived from traditional sportsmen tools. Overmold was implemented in key areas to protect the GPS/inReach antennas, and to provide additional grip in wet weather conditions. Knurling was incorporated onto the rear housing to enhance the overall tactile feel when operating the device with gloves, and a tapered product profile further enhances in-hand feel while allowing for an improved experience when inserting and removing the device from a holster or field-vest pocket. A lanyard loop accommodating MIL-SPEC paracord allows for a robust safety-tether for trainers that operate from a horse, mule, ATV or other mode of transport. The carry-experience was rounded-out with the integration of Garmin's spine-mount system, allowing for various on-body and vehicle-based mount setups.
Metrics & Planning
At the heart of the Alpha 200i is the technology providing enhanced, quantitative data to trainers about their trusted hunting companions. The Alpha 200i allows for the tracking (and training) of up to 20 dogs at distances of 9 miles when paired with compatible dog devices. The Pro Compass feature visually showcases in real-time the exact direction and distance of each dog on a hunt or training exercise. This ensures that all dogs are accounted for at all times. Common actions, such as a dog being 'on-point' or 'treeing', are illustrated via unique icons, allowing trainers to quickly react to, and prioritize those situations. Gone are the days of dogs treeing game for hours on end, often to the detriment of their own health. Additional hunt metrics monitor the distance traveled, speed, and travel patterns of each individual dog. Similar to the performance data gathered by sports organizations to monitor athletes and predict future performance, dog metrics provide trainers the insights necessary to plan more efficient hunts that reduce the risk of dog fatigue and field related injuries. Reducing the load of individual dogs and optimizing overall hunt strategies is made easier by the ability to save out and replay hunt tracks through the Garmin Explore app. Public land boundaries, TopoActive and Birds-Eye satellite maps provide additional insight on-device (and in the Explore app) to ensure trainers have clear knowledge of the terrain both they and their dogs will need to be prepared for during their next hunt. The entire system is powered by a removable lithium-ion battery that can be swapped in the field, allowing trainers and dogs to safely stay in the backcountry longer.
When undertaking any adventure in the outdoors, it is of the utmost importance to plan and prepare for any situation that may present itself. This becomes even more vital when another life is reliant on you and your skills to navigate the wild. The Garmin Alpha 200i improves the overall hunt experience, while providing data and features that promote performance efficiencies and safety for both trainers and their dogs. This ensures not only a successful hunt, but a life-time of stories and experiences cemented by the bond between a sportsman and their dog.