The technical team at Valeport have developed a number of solutions to ensure that data capture from our underwater instruments can be achieved easily, quickly and accurately.
Data collection need not be fraught with danger
The process of gathering data – from deploying an instrument, to retrieving the profiles, downloading them, reformatting, and reviewing data sets – is a challenging one for engineers the world over. But as manufacturers there are steps we should be taking to ensure that data capture runs smoothly.
The technology around which our lives revolve has had a strong influence over what we expect from products in every area of life. Our smartphones, tablets and laptops rarely leave our sides while high-speed internet access is now so common that we only give it a thought when we are without it.
Hardware is easily changed, memory is plentiful and expandable, quality is good and costs are reasonable.
So when data capture does not happen, instrument connectivity fails, or data is wrongly formatted, it leads to delay, frustration, and even redeployment.
These are the standards engineers expect from their surveying equipment, and rightly so. Instrument manufacturers should be listening to what engineers need from their instruments and providing tools that make life easier without presenting additional challenges.
Cables have always been the traditional method of transferring data from instrument to computer. Cables offer visual reassurance that the devices are communicating but they have their drawbacks.
Repeated mating and unmating of cables causes stress to the connectors and eventually causes them to fail. This is not a problem unique to surveying equipment as any charger, adaptor or connector will suffer in the same way from repeated use. So what are our alternatives? The increasing availability of wifi makes it a popular option to provide reliable and speedy data transfer. But this has a knock-on effect on the battery life of the device as wifi is a power-hungry beast.
A solution we have implemented with our SWiFT SVP is the use of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, a tool that is growing in popularity. BLE is an advancement of the original Bluetooth personal area network which requires considerably less power to maintain a communication range.
BLE can support data transfer over a range of around 10m, which is plenty for data transfer from an instrument to a computer or mobile device while optimising the battery life of the instrument. Bluetooth users might know that where multiple devices are in use, pairing mismatches can occur. To avoid any mishaps Valeport provides a custom USB Bluetooth dongle with our SWiFT which is bound to the profiler that it is supplied with and automatically connects whenever the instrument is in range.
A further benefit of BLE is that it has allowed us to automate the data transfer process. Why should it be necessary for our users to retrieve the instrument, manually connect it and instruct the data transfer?
BLE technology has allowed us to develop a new software platform, Valeport Connect, which extracts, visualises, translates and shares data straight to an application on a computer or mobile device. By the time our users are back at their workstations, their profiles should be ready and waiting without any laborious clicking.
Formatting the future
Once data has been successfully collected and transferred the battle is far from won if hours are then spent reformatting profiles. The next frontier for manufacturers is to support engineers to retrieve their data in the desired format.
There is a growing movement among software developers to integrate instruments, including the SWiFT, into their software, to ensure that data can be extracted in the required format. Our Connect platform currently caters to all the major exchange format requirements with more being added continuously.
Valeport actively works with software providers to use our instrument microprocessor commands to recover data directly without conversion to the accepted formats they work with, which speeds up processing of multi-beam data. As convenience and efficiency continue to be key selling points for engineers selecting instruments, pressure will increase on manufacturers to keep pace with the needs of their users