SOLVING THE PROBLEM OF REMOTE ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING IN SOME OF THE PLANET’S HARSHEST CONDITIONS
“ONE OF THE CHALLENGES WE HAVE TO OVERCOME IS HOW TO MAINTAIN OR UPDATE OUR WEATHER STATIONS IN REMOTE LOCATIONS.”
Aware360 interviews Alan DeCiantis, Director of Product Management at Forest Technology Systems (FTS Inc). Based on Vancouver Island, FTS is a leading manufacturer of remote environmental monitoring solutions.
GOVERNMENT AND ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING
“Every time you drive past a sign that indicates forest fire conditions, the data comes from an FTS weather station,” says Alan DeCiantis, Director of Product Management at FTS Inc., based just outside of Victoria, BC. “Our equipment forms the backbone of some of the world’s most sophisticated and demanding environmental monitoring networks.”
The top 50 government forest management agencies across North America use a network of hundreds of FTS “weather stations” to collect data that in turn is used to calculate national fire danger rating.
“Our weather stations are basically regular weather stations, but have been designed according to strict government guidelines,” says DeCiantis. “Government agencies depend on our stations to predict whether conditions are right for a wildfire to break out, so we have to build to strict ‘fire weather’ specifications.”
The weather stations are typically deployed to remote locations, including the tops of mountains. The technology must be completely reliable since FTS’s clients depend on the data to predict outbreaks and coordinate resources.
That’s why FTS builds its stations to withstand harsh temperature extremes and sustain wind gusts of as high as 160 km/h. The fire weather stations also have armored cables to fend off curious—or hungry—animals.
One station continued to transmit for almost nine months using only its battery power after a curious bear liberated the solar panel.
CHALLENGES IN THE FIELD
“Another one of the challenges we have to overcome is how to maintain or update our weather stations in remote locations,” says DeCiantis. “For example, if a weather station is located on top of a mountain it doesn’t make sense to send out a crew on even a yearly basis to update its firmware or software.”
“One of the challenges we have to overcome is how to maintain or update our weather stations in remote locations.”
While their rugged construction allows the weather stations to last for at least a decade without needing repairs, the devices need to receive software updates to improve or enhance their performance.
The problem? The stations can often be located out of the range of cellular networks, and instead, rely on satellite communication.
“There are a number of constraints when attempting two-way communication with the device over satellite,” says DeCiantis. “Satellite data is expensive, and you have to be creative about how to transmit the most data.”
One solution FTS has developed is Ubicom, a reliable 2-way remote satellite communication system.
“When connected to an FTS Axiom DCP, Ubicom allows high-frequency data to be pushed at chosen intervals by way of Iridium satellite communication to a gateway for retrieval,” says DeCiantis. “Using FTS AutoCaller, the end user can collect their data for analysis, export it to common formats for distribution and even perform advanced functions on the remote station itself.”
While FTS’s weather stations are the de facto standard for remote environmental sensing in North America, the company, now at more than 70 employees, continues to grow. DeCiantris himself is a transplant to Victoria from Waterloo, Ontario, where he worked for BlackBerry.
“I knew that I wanted to live closer to the family on Vancouver Island and I kept looking for a company that could use my skills,” says DeCiantis. “FTS was it – It is a great company to work for and I look forward to using my experience to bring extremely reliable environmental monitoring solutions to new markets”.