Saturday, November 18, 2017
Published: Jul 2017
Authors
  • Kevin Edwards
    • Kevin Edwards
    • Company: Valeport
Categories
  • Data Collection & Processing
  • Sound Velocimeter

Listening to your customer is key when designing a new product

As a manufacturer, we are always striving to create products that we believe to be what the end users desire. The technology around which our lives revolve these days has had a strong influence over what we expect from products in every area of life. For instance, I have my smartphone, tablet and laptop; I have high speed access to information and data via the internet. Hardware is easily charged, memory is plentiful and expandable, quality is good and costs are reasonable. So, these are the standards I expect from the equipment I am about to use when hydrographic surveying. Valeport has led the way in sound velocity technology for more than a decade and our latest addition to the portfolio, the SWiFT SVP, was designed from the outset with customer feedback front of mind and a practical understanding of what customers actually want from an instrument.

One of the overriding design principles with the SWiFT was ease of use. Feedback from customers told us that, while they had confidence in the measurement technology itself, there was room to improve the experience of using our profilers in practice. An anecdote from a hydrographic surveyor conveyed that — on average — an SVP would take minutes to deploy, connect the data cable in, load up the software, download the profile, reformat the data and import it into the survey software. It might not sound like much in isolation, but if you have to do that once an hour, the time starts to add up. We recognised that with the creation of the SWiFT we could address and improve this experience for the user.

I don’t want to use cables if possible for data set up and data extraction

Traditionally, SVPs have required cable connection for data transer, but this has its drawbacks. Most particularly, connectors are a weak point. Repeated mating and unmating of connectors stresses them and eventually causes them to fail, so it’s hardly surprising that customers want to dispense with cables where possible. WiFi offers a popular alternative but, as many smartphone owners will know, can be power hungry and diminish battery life. Our solution is the use of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology that allows short range communication up to around 10 metres: plenty for fast data transfer to a smartphone or PC. Where multiple Bluetooth devices are present, pairing mismatches can occur. To anticipate this issue, we provide a custom USB Bluetooth dongle with the SWiFT which is bound to the profiler that it is supplied with and automatically connects whenever the SWiFT is in range.

No more wasting batteries!

Batteries continue to present a disposal and recycling challenge due to their toxic nature, so are often an unfortunate waste. Achieving a balance between creating ease of purchase for the customer by supplying standard internationally accepted alkaline battery types, against a bespoke packaged type which better suits the power demands of an instrument, is not always easy. These days, we expect to simply re-charge a device and, for manufacturers, this should be our aim for our instruments. We upgraded the SWiFT to a rechargeable battery for both environmental and practical reasons but, in doing so, presented ourselves with a further challenge; the possibility of gassing in a sealed housing under charge. A simple vent would resolve this issue, but it is then reliant on the user who must remember to re-fit the vent when deploying the instrument again. The SWiFT SVP employs an innovative approach by incorporating the vent within the suspension point used for deployment, which means it will not deploy if it is not fitted. Ultimately, we have delivered the SWiFT SVP with the high energy density of a rechargable battery pack which, fully charged, will operate for over 100 hours. The SWiFT is easily charged via USB or bespoke AC adaptor, offers a five year battery life span and fully complies with IATA regulations.

Visual aids help — Green is Good.

Have I switched it on? Do I have a GPS signal? What is the battery status? It is always of concern when you are about to deploy an instrument and we understand that surveyors would like that peace of mind, knowing all is OK before taking measurements. Which is why our SWiFT SVP employs a simple twist action for on/off and four LED icons to indicate Operational, Battery, GPS and Bluetooth status.

Where did I deploy that probe again?

In large data sets, precise geo-referencing is critical to delivering a satisfactory user experience to ensure surveyors are never left wondering where a profile was taken. For this reason, every single SWiFT SVP profile is geo-referenced by the integral GPS chip so there is no longer a need to refer to soggy notebooks. In the header of every single file is a latitude, longitude and UTC timestamp to precisely place the profile.

I want less steps in getting my data

The nervous post recovery process is followed religiously by surveyors worldwide: connecting to the instrument, uploading data, and checking it is OK. But why shouldn’t it be automated?

Valeport Connect is our new cross platform application to extract, visualise, translate and share data from the SWiFT SVP straight to the PC application or IOS and Android mobile apps.

Automated connection, extraction and translation of files means no more repetitive clicking and, by the time you get back to your workstation with the SWiFT, the processing SVP should be waiting for you.

Will data be in the format I want to match my survey software?

Recognising that one size doesn’t fit all, we have ensured that all the major exchange formats for sound speed profiles can be exported from Valeport Connect; and we are continuously adding new formats.

Beyond Valeport Connect, there is a growing movement from key survey software providers to integrate the SWiFT directly into their own software. QPS and Foreshore are two of the first to do so, with others developing this functionality.

Valeport actively engages with survey software providers to use our instrument micro processor commands to recover data directly without conversion to the accepted formats they work with, which speeds up processing of multi-beam data.

Any other data available?

Computed data from parameters measured is perfectly accepted and sometimes the only way of getting measured data. In addition to the directly measured sound speed, temperature and pressure observations, conductivity, salinity and density are calculated using Valeport’s proprietary DASH algorithm developed from extensive laboratory and field work.

Valeport is a leading UK manufacturer of oceanographic, hydrographic and hydrometric instrumentation.

Valeport designs and manufactures instrumentation for the oceanographic, hydrographic and hydrometric communities with a worldwide customer base that includes: defence, environmental, oil and gas, renewable energy, construction, dredging and civil engineering sectors.

Valeport has supplied to the subsea sector since it was established in 1969. Now an independent, family owned business, Valeport employs more than 80 people from their base in Devon, in the south west of the UK and works with a global network of agents to ensure a responsive and efficient worldwide service.

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Figure 1. Sample of the variation in coordinate frames found within any given hydrographic workflow
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page 22

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