If Alexa met Goldilocks …..

….. what would they say to each other?

An odd question perhaps? Perhaps not.

Supporting science has many Goldilocks aspects to it – when is too little, too much and just enough data acquired to solve a problem?

By far the majority of data acquisitions are one-off activities with no opportunities to repeat them should something go wrong, or if it is discovered later that a certain aspect of a dataset is actually fundamental to solving a particular problem and that aspect wasn’t recorded at the time.

The Boss has many mantra, but one of them is “if it exists record it, even if you think you’ll never need it”.

Her philosophy is that if you record it even though you are certain at the time you will never use it, you (or someone else) has always got it to go back to if it actually turns out to be needed later, or some other cunning use of it for another problem is later thought of.

An only record exactly what you want and nothing else scenario has existed for some time out in the wider sea-going data acquisition community and, in particular for a certain type of data whose acquisition system also has no means to make a real-time (as data is acquired) back-up.

So we have been doing a bit of community service of late for the greater and wider community good.

We are building the geophysical equivalent of an Alexa – our version is a tool that sits in the background of a science data network “listening” for particular data streams coming from specific data acquisition hardware.

As they pass by they get caught, copied, time stamped and sent off to back-up storage, and then read by a QC display system (another of our little community services headed up by the Boss) to ensure the hardware is operating properly and that the data is sound.

The system we are currently working on is, in the first instance, being designed to “catch” magnetic data coming from a fish-like device that is towed behind a vessel (because vessel’s are made of steel and are thus magnetic themselves), as well as catching the commands being sent to the fish to tell it what to do – the latter is called metadata and it is as important and the magnetic field measurements themselves.

As with everything we seem to do, this has involved building some hardware to plug the magnetometer and its computer into, such that the data and metadata travelling back and forth between them can be “caught” by a piece of software that has also been written to “listen”, and when the right bits pass by, copy, time stamp, package up and route them on in a particular format.

Designs are one thing – building them is something else, and then they have to be proven in reality.

And they have to look the part as well – if something is worth doing its worth doing well.

The software is done and it works under a simulated magnetic acquisition – the hardware is starting to be built.

Here is stage 1 – the built base printed circuit board.

Its quite a big board for us at 15 cm x 15 cm (6″ x 6″) – a standard off-the-shelf metal box size – and it is also doubled-sided.

It also will contain a few things that our current dataloggers don’t – yet – like:

  • wifi and charging over internet (both power hungry for battery powered systems)
  • the ability to be plugged it into the mains (can’t do that on the seabed) – and this box will never (intentionally) be deployed into the sea anyway
  • a range of flashing LEDs to tell us what its doing as it does it (can’t see flashing lights inside tubes on the seabed)

….. and so on.

So this has also been a opportunity to learn about different hardware and technology that we wouldn’t have normally formed part of our “day” design work.

With the, board done, the next job is to solder on all the components, ready for a battle conditions test at the beginning of next month.

Knowing the footprint of the board its easy to see how challenging the soldering is going to be as some of the components are very small indeed.

And of course, thinking forward and over the horizon, we’ve made this system far more adaptable than just magnetics data ………. we have other usage plans for it as well!

One thought on “If Alexa met Goldilocks …..

  1. Fully agree with the strategy. It is often the second-order that is important. Everyone looks at the first order data (aka the obvious), but insight comes from looking beyond the primary data and what lies beneath (or you inadvertently record or usually discard as ‘noise’)
    Keep the blogs coming
    Thx Ian


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