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Understanding Behind-the-Scenes Testing at ART

Getting AlgaeTrackers and other devices ready for the field

When an AlgaeTracker is brought to a customer, it’s ready for operation as soon as it comes out of the box, factory calibrated to deliver consistently accurate data. We pride ourselves on our device’s low installation time.

Ensuring that the AlgaeTracker is field-ready when it’s installed, though, is a meticulous process of testing and re-testing, both in controlled settings and in the field, for a variety of factors. Walking through these steps reveals the high level of scrutiny and cross-checking that each Tracker is subject to before being released into the world.

After being assembled in-house, as the majority of our Trackers and other devices are, the first tests cover the Tracker’s mechanical procedures. A simple run-through of the Tracker’s initiation sequence occurs, as well as more fine-tuned testing, such as measuring the distance traveled by the anti-fouling brush.

The AlgaeTracker’s optics-based phycocyanin, chlorophyll A, and turbidity sensors are then calibrated. Utilizing industry-standard solutions that fluoresce similarly to phycocyanin and chlorophyll-A, an individual tracker’s displayed results can be compared to actual values, and adjustments made to the device’s operation if the tolerance threshold of 0.25% is not met. Our online backend dashboard greatly simplifies the process of analyzing our Trackers’ individually displayed readings. Once the optical parameters (phycocyanin, chlorophyll-a, and turbidity) are calibrated, the solar light sensor, internal temperature, and water temperature are calibrated.

As a final step in the calibration process, the Trackers are placed in a solution of known parameter values, including solar light, solar panel voltage as well as the optical properties. Here we also check the cellular signal strength and the battery strength. Throughout the entire process of calibration, each step’s results or values are documented and saved in our company’s databases, and can be accessed in the future if repairs or maintenance are performed.

These Trackers are then placed in a bucket containing a non-controlled sample of live cyanobacteria obtained from a commercial vendor. Although the concentration of algae in these samples may differ somewhat, that’s ok - they are thoroughly mixed and temperature controlled between trackers. What we look for in this step is repeatability between Trackers. In groups of ten at a time, measurements of phycocyanin, chlorophyll-a, and turbidity are taken from each tracker and recorded in a spreadsheet. This test does require rapid sequential testing so that the algae’s state does not vary during the course of the test.

Then the Trackers’ results are compared to one another in a process we call “R-testing”, or repeatability testing, to ensure that these measurements are within a set tolerance of one another. This ensures that, regardless of which AlgaeTracker a customer receives, its readings will be very close to those of any other Tracker.

Sometimes, repeatability testing is conducted in the field, where large groups of Trackers being tested can be exposed to a similar environment. Here, manufacturing lead Matt Collins corrals a group of AlgaeTrackers in a pond near our Boulder, CO headquarters.

Finally, the GPS is tested, also utilizing the dashboard. Once these tests are complete, the units are shelved for a short time, a double-check (an abridged version of all the previously described tests) is performed by a different employee, and the units are ready to ship! At the end of each successfully completed step in this calibration and testing process, a check is placed by the Tracker’s serial number, with four check marks indicating a Tracker ready for shipping.

Demanding physical environments, such as the frozen Lagerman Reservoir in Colorado, make great places to weather-test AlgaeTrackers. Here, CEO Chris Lee brings an AlgaeTracker out on the reservoir.

Beyond a unit-by-unit basis, AquaRealTime also periodically conducts long-term field tests with groups of AlgaeTrackers and our other devices. These field tests are generally done with groups of Trackers, especially as a representative sample of a large order. These field tests allow us to compare AlgaeTracker results to one another in real time, tracking any deviation not attributable to differences in algae levels over time. Testing in long-term natural settings also allows us to verify the AlgaeTracker’s resilience to weather, high surf, and other demanding environmental conditions. New product lines are also subjected to this long-term testing before full production begins.

From start to finish, our testing and calibration processes create AlgaeTrackers that deliver accurate results in a timely manner and a wide range of conditions. Happy Tracking!


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