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Forecasting the Next Deadly Wave With Rugged Mobile Technology

By LeeAnn Kriegh

A Handheld Algiz 7 rugged tablet running Imagenex side scan sonar aboard an MTRI research vessel.
Large waves may fill people with the most fear, but it's the medium waves—those between 2.5 and 5 feet, with rip currents twice as fast as Olympian Michael Phelps—that kill more people. Those are among the early findings of research being conducted by Director Guy Meadows and his colleagues at the Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Technological University.

Meadows's team, which includes satellite remote sensing researchers from Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI), has been using two types of Algiz rugged tablets, manufactured by Handheld Group, based in Lidköping, Sweden, with a U.S. base in Corvallis, Oregon, to gather underwater data along the coast of Lake Michigan, where 50 people drowned last year in nearshore accidents.

The team has been collecting data for the past five years, and will continue into 2015, in hopes of finding better ways to determine how dangerous currents form, when and where they will form next, and, ultimately, how to warn people so they can get out of the water before tragedy strikes.

Chasing Storms
One aspect of the team's research involves sending about 10 researchers directly into storms that hit Lake Michigan's shorelines so they can track dangerous currents before, during and after they develop.

'Once we get to the beach where the storm is expected, we measure the shape of the underwater beach in its pre-storm condition,' said Meadows. 'Using drifter floats and other tools, we then map the position and strength of the dangerous currents as the waves occur. Then as the storm passes by, we go out on the water to collect post-storm information on how the beach has changed.'

The team launches an Imagenex (Port Coquitlam, Canada) YellowFin side scan sonar system from their 17-foot open boat. Using a Lowrance (Tulsa, Oklahoma) HDS Gen2 device, they collect data on latitude and longitude, depth, temperature and other metrics, which they view on their Algiz 7 rugged tablet computer.

'We're out there in three-to-four-foot waves in an open boat, and it's often raining, so you can imagine how much we appreciate having a waterproof device like the Algiz 7 that we can place with confidence in the bottom of the boat,' said Meadows.

The recently upgraded Algiz 7 is now powered by an Intel Atom 1.6 gigahertz processor and packs a massive 128 gigabyte SSD and 4 gigabytes of DDR3 RAM into its 2.42-pound package. The hot-swappable 2,600-milliampere-hour dual battery pack enables Meadows and his team to keep collecting data all day long, changing batteries as needed without shutting down.

The Algiz 7 used by Meadows's team runs a software program called Undersee Explorer that maps the underwater bottom in real time. 'As the data flows into the Algiz 7, it's converted into a GIS type of map that we can look at as we go along,' said Meadows.

Meadows has been collecting data on rip currents since 2002. Back then, his team relied on standard consumer laptops to collect all the data—a practice he wouldn't recommend. 'The laptops took an amazing beating,' he said. 'The top opens and flops around when the boat is bouncing around. They're cumbersome and they're fragile at the same time.'

In comparison, Meadows said, 'Having a small computer like the Algiz 7 that's easy to use and rugged is a real asset.' Because the 7-inch widescreen touch display features MaxView technology, which provides spectacular brightness in outdoor conditions, 'We can see the mapping data with absolute clarity, even on a sunny day,' he said. To continue this article please click here.

LeeAnn Kriegh is a freelance writer and editor based in Bend, Oregon. Over the past two decades, she has written about a wide range of technologies, from unmanned aircraft systems to rugged handheld devices and the latest data center solutions. Much of her work is focused in the education, health care and security fields, with clients including Intel, Google and Microsoft.

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