Magazine Article | November 13, 2012

Integrator Builds New Software From Existing Program

By Cindy Dubin, contributing editor, Business Solutions Magazine

Cloud-based database beefs up security and eliminates data loss.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. For Alsea Geospatial, Inc. (AGI) that means customizing its basic software program to meet specific clients’ needs. “We can build on what we’ve already learned and build more rapidly,” says John T. Gabriel, principal of AGI.

That is how AGI landed the contract from the Native Village of Eyak in Alaska. The biologists in the region have to keep track of the annual salmon run, when the salmon migrate from the ocean and swim to the upper reaches of rivers where they spawn on gravel beds. The biologists need to know how many fish begin the journey upstream and how many actually survive. From a sustainability perspective, having this information dictates the local fishing season. If enough fish survived, fishing season can proceed; if the salmon survival numbers are below a certain level, then the biologists can actually limit or close down the fishing season completely.

Customized Software Written For Client
The biologists were using Palm Pilots to record their field data, but the equipment often broke down, explains Gabriel. “The Palm computers kept failing in the harsh Alaskan conditions, plus their software was difficult to use. It crashed several times per day, and it was expensive to customize.” As a result, captured data was lost and unrecoverable, and sometimes information was not even recorded. “Sometimes, a statistician was brought on to analyze the data gaps and infer the salmon survival rates,” he says.

After extensive online research, a call was made to Trimble for a water-resistant device that could survive the icy temperature of the Copper River and be loaded with software that would improve and simplify their data collection process. While Trimble did provide its Nomad 900 series of rugged handheld computers, the handheld manufacturer referred the biologists in Eyak to AGI of Corvallis, OR for the software.

AGI, a Trimble business partner, is a computer programming, geographical information system, and database consulting firm that has developed and supported software solutions to be used with Trimble’s rugged mobile computers. AGI built an application based in part on its customer utility asset management software for electric utility workers. Using the existing framework developed for other applications, AGI’s programmers were able to develop the data entry forms and database structure to accommodate the biologists’ needs. In three months, the resulting program was FishScan field data collection software, a cloud-based solution.

RFID Integrated Into Rugged Device
Salmon caught in downstream fish wheels are tagged with low-frequency RFID tags, which uniquely identify each fish. When the fish make it upstream, they are recaptured in the upstream fish wheels and the tags are scanned with an RFID reader. The Nomad features a waterproof extended cap that allows an oversized SD card (Model SDiD1212 from Wireless Dynamics, Inc.) to be added to an expansion slot on the outside of the Nomad, eliminating a second piece of hardware. With the integrated SD card, FishScan reads the tags and automatically enters the identifying information into the correct database field. Additional information about the condition, size, and the number of fish caught is recorded in FishScan survey forms on the Nomad. After capturing data, the information is wirelessly sent from the Nomad to Amazon’s Cloud service. “We provide the cloud space to Eyak, which gives the biologists enterprise-level security in backing up their reports,” says Aaron Gifford, AGI software engineer. “As a result, they always have access to their statistical data.” The reports generated include salmon mortality rates, the number of fish caught with tags, and fish species noticed that are not salmon. The reports can be made public on the village’s website to share with local fishermen.

Eyak spends $5,000 a year to have AGI host the data, and the FishScan hardware-software bundle is $3,000 per unit (cost includes a Nomad 900L with extended cap, the RFID reader, and the FishScan field software). Since deploying the complete solution this past summer, Gabriel reports that there has been no system failure. And, there is no longer a need to pay a statistician.