AML Oceanographic’s recently released WiFi & GPS device, Data•Xchange, is saving time for hydrographers around the world by transferring and exporting data wirelessly and automatically.
The old adage holds true in hydrographic surveying: time is money. With daily operating costs in the thousands, workflow efficiency impacts a project’s cost significantly. In March of 2015, AML Oceanographic launched Data•Xchange, a WiFi device with integrated GPS designed to increase efficiency and automation in the historically tedious process of SVP data collection. Upon surfacing, Data•Xchange transfers collected data through an automated WiFi link between profiler and computer at a rate 40 times faster than via cable. The former requisite of plugging and unplugging cables is eliminated, improving workflow by streamlining the process. This small addition to X•Series profilers is making a big difference in hydrographers’ daily work.
As a product inherently different than AML’s usual developments — instruments and their sensors — preparing Data•Xchange for release presented new challenges with a correspondingly high engineering risk profile. Seamless install and use were paramount. “We wanted to be sure we got it right,” explained Dustin Olender, Director of Engineering at AML. To graduate Data•Xchange from hypothetical process to real world workflow, Beta units were sent out to customers to test in the field. A crucial stage in the creation of the finished product leaving AML’s warehouse today, the Beta trial program began in December of 2014 and finished in early 2015. Participating organizations included Canadian Hydrographic Services, Seahorse Geomatics, Public Works & Government Services Canada, QinetiQ, eTrac Inc., and others through AML’s agents.
A company particularly keen to try Data•Xchange was eTrac Inc. A hydrographic services firm headquartered in San Rafael, California, eTrac was recently awarded a 5 year contract under NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey to perform hydrographic surveys to aid in the updating of published nautical charts. The projects cover large areas and create a scenario where efficiency of SV profile collection is critical to production rates. Therefore, eTrac was on the hunt for products that aided in timely SV collection. “As owners and users of multiple AML SV Probes, the beta trial of Data•Xchange was a natural interest for us,” explained David Neff, a Certified Hydrographer at eTrac.
According to Neff, Data•Xchange’s positive impact on their daily operations has been multi-faceted:
Data•Xchange allows us to collect SV profiles and make them immediately available to the hydrographer without the added time consumption of unplugging/plugging in the impulse/serial connection. The time and cost savings become significant when performing projects requiring multiple weeks or months of data collection. Additionally, by eliminating the constant unplugging/plugging in of the standard impulse connector, Data•Xchange alleviates wear and tear of the connectors, which ultimately helps us save on maintenance costs.
eTrac recently completed a large scale mapping project in the Gulf of Mexico covering the Approaches to Panama City, Florida. Data•Xchange was implemented on one of the two survey vessels in an attempt to gain efficiency and streamline SV collection. Neff added, “Data•Xchange was helpful to the project and we look forward to including the product in our future operations.”
For participating organizations, the Beta trials were a chance to be on the cutting edge of profiling instrumentation technology. In return, they helped AML’s engineering team work out low frequency, low severity bugs or feature requests, such as clarification on the new SeaCast 4 interface, or installation issues relating to quirks in older versions of Windows. The engineers who had designed Data•Xchange from its infancy interviewed hydrographers working with the product in the field. Upon finding a problem, they would work with the customer over the phone or via the web to isolate and then solve the issue. In all aspects of the product — but especially with SeaCast 4 — the goal was to simplify and automate the experience, even as new features and options were being added to address customer needs. For example, there was a request from a trial participant to provide concatenation of CARIS files via SeaCast. This function was implemented prior to SeaCast 4’s release. The trial provided AML engineers with a much better sense of the specific applications and needs of the customers, resulting in a product more attuned to its operator.
The launch of Data•Xchange coincided with the release of SeaCast 4, the latest version of AML’s data capture and processing software. While previous versions already provided an intuitive interface with all X•Series instrumentation, SeaCast 4 features enormous enhancements in instrument setup and data collection, management, and exportation. One such feature is automatic, simultaneous exports to multiple hydrographic software file formats, including HYPACK, CARIS, CARIS concatenated, Quinsy, Kongsberg, Sonardyne, PDS 2000, HIPAP, and CSV. With many of the new version’s improvements directly enabled by and for Data•Xchange— such as embedded GPS to georeference cast data — their interaction produces optimal efficiency.
In the early stages of development, the product design team determined that WiFi would be the optimal choice considering the operations for which the device would be used. That is, when hydrographers are in the field and profiles are being taken at various distances from the vessel’s computer, WiFi would perform best given its proven superiority in range and data transfer rates. Although some Bluetooth specifications suggest a long range, the reliability at those longer ranges is questionable. WiFi is also the more secure wireless connection, with tried and true encryption.
Another key benefit of Data•Xchange is the reduction in subsea connector cycles. Frequent connector mating adds to the risk of connector wear and, ultimately, instrument failure. Every connector cycle increases wear on the conducting pins and sockets, and also presents the risk of dirt or debris entering the connector mate. With a choice of sleep settings to match various workflow requirements, Data•Xchange drastically reduces the mate cycles from multiple per day or per cast to just one when charging the battery.
Backwards compatibility was seen as critical given the large install base of X•Series profilers. “When designing this product, we made backwards compatibility an absolute must. It was important to us to make sure existing customers could experience the benefits of Data•Xchange without having to purchase a brand new instrument,” explained AML’s President, Robert Haydock. Also important was staying true to the modularity of X•Series and XchangeTM products: Data•Xchange can easily be moved amongst all X•Series profilers.
The benefits to survey operations are clear. Automation of data transfer and exportation greatly improves data collection workflow for hydrographers. Time savings are realized immediately with the first use of this technology, while reduced long term wear and tear on the cabling and connectors provides further long term benefits. Data•Xchange is a valuable upgrade to any hydrographer’s survey kit.
eTrac Inc. offers a full range of services from large and small scale hydrographic survey, to custom integration and systems design for a variety of hydrographic applications. Beginning as a small firm in 2003, eTrac has added offices in Seattle, Anchorage, and Houston and grown to approximately 25 employees, 9 vessels, and an array of hydrographic equipment servicing several markets across the United States’ west coast, including Alaska.
AML Oceanographic Ltd. designs and manufactures innovative instruments for the ocean sensing market. Having pioneered the design of field-swappable sensors and the industry’s only proven UV biofouling control products, UV•Xchange and Cabled UV, AML provides a full spectrum of instrumentation solutions for hydrographic survey, environmental monitoring, and other applications.
For more information on Data•Xchange, SeaCast 4, or other products please go to www.amloceanographic.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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