This blog post is a transcript, edited for readability, of CEO Chris Lee's
speech at the State of Lake Erie's (SOLE) 2022 conference. He talks in-depth both about what AquaRealTime does and what we have to offer.
Speaker: All right, it's my great pleasure to bring up our next speaker, Dr. Chris Lee. Chris holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and control systems from the University of Colorado, Boulder and he's the co-founder and CEO of AquaRealTime. He’s speaking to us today about low-cost network sensor buoys for scalable algae monitoring programs, so please welcome Dr. Lee.
Chris Lee: Hello everyone so thanks for coming here and watching me and as you said, my name is Chris and I'm with AquaRealTime and we're going to talk about low-cost network sensor buoys for a scalable algae monitoring program. So I think we're probably preaching to the choir here. I think we all know what the problem is with HABs (Harmful Algal Blooms). But I wanted to show a video in Utah Lake where the algae bloom came in through currents and winds and this was a very shallow area where any kind of movement of the water would cause an intense algae growth. So this was not a growth, but it happened in just a few minutes, not even hours or days. (Click the link below to see this algal growth for yourself.)
With early detection of this kind of a problem, you can rapidly respond and get down to the root of the problem. I'll be talking about existing monitoring technologies, then our AlgaeTracker offering, which is a new totally new product, and then some case studies.
So, manual sampling is the status quo. This produces very accurate results if you can send the data and your measurement samples to a lab. You can get incredibly accurate results. Of course, it's difficult to get enough people to enough locations to really get a lot of scalable data. With satellite monitoring, there are fantastic findings that we're getting there. There's sometimes challenges with a geographical and a time resolution because the pixels may be overlapping with earth and such, so you can have some limitations there. Sonde buoys are extremely powerful, many different things that you can measure here, and they do have some associated costs of course, that have to be kept in mind. (See below)
“With early detection of this kind of a problem, you can rapidly respond and get down to the root of the problem”
-Chris Lee, AquaRealTime CEO
So what we've come up with is a new take on the problem. We wanted to come up with something that was very scalable, very easily deployable, and that could be very lightweight and a complete package. This AlgaeTracker is a plug-and-play IoT sensor buoy, just take it out of the box. No assembly required - just place it in the water, press the Power button, clip it to an existing anchor or navigation buoy and you're off to the races. Every two to 30 minutes, it will take measurements of six key water parameters. And every two hours that will post to the cloud, where we update the dashboard. So here you can see a quick snapshot of our dashboard (see below) You’re going to see a live GPS map of all your devices. You can click through to each individual one, get color-coded gauges with green, yellow, or red depending on the severity of the issue. You can alert set action thresholds, we have historical charts and we also have the evolving analytics that I’ll go into a bit more.
“This AlgaeTracker is a plug and play IoT sensor buoy, just take it out of the box. No assembly required-just place it in the water, press the Power button, clip it to an existing anchor or navigation buoy, and you're off to the races.”
If we go a little bit closer up on the actual device (see below), you can see on the left we have a solar panel and inside there is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. With that package, you can go three weeks without any light whatsoever. So if there was an apocalypse at your location, you would still be able to keep monitoring for three weeks straight. On the right, you can see our anti-fouling system. That's a very effective brushing system. You can see the device can get completely covered in biofouling of any kind, even mollusks, but that window will stay very clean. And I'll go into a bit more detail afterward. This is a light unit, eight pounds, you can just put it in the backpack. It basically looks like a small frisbee slash spaceship.
This is a look at our dashboard (see below). On the top left, you can see the last time that it updated then there's a signal strength. All you need is 1% signal strength and that's enough to get all the data across. Battery status, like I said, pretty much anywhere you can deploy this that's not going to be frozen, you won't have a battery problem - ever. It'll just run permanently. So your device image there that location is live GPS. It will tell you when the last time that GPS was measured. We can send you alerts if it gets moved or if it's lost, automatically email. Then you have your color-coded gauges, green yellow red, there's a little Alert tab on the little bell. You can press that to choose your email notification thresholds for each of the parameters.
“All you need is 1% signal strength and that's enough to get all the data across. Battery status, like I said, pretty much anywhere you can deploy this that's not going to be frozen, you won't have a battery problem - ever.”
Next is more of the color-coded gauges and then here you have Chlorophyll A measurements. This graph can show Scientific as well. (see below for more dashboard samples). So the key benefits of this it's a turnkey system all in one with sensors, power, the data, the dashboard, all in one simple unit with a different kind of pricing model. There are 10 Total key parameters when you include the data that we're pulling from the weather station, data sets off the sensor or off the weather, wind, rain, air temperature, lasting effects. It’s very cost effective and scalable into different kinds of systems. Rapid installation - 30 minutes is all it takes to put this into water anyone can do it and expanded corrections and analytics.
“It's a turnkey system, all in one, with sensors, power, the data, the dashboard, all in one simple unit with a different kind of pricing model… It’s very cost-effective and scalable into different kinds of systems.”
For the installation, we usually recommend using a counter buoy that's the secondary buoy you can see there (see below for our full installation guide). just click our buoy to that buoy’s over two-foot section of stainless steel cable and connect that to your anchor or navigation buoy. All you need is about two to three feet of depth, and it will have accurate measurements. The maintenance that we recommend is basically we send out a weekly summary report email that will tell you about any alerts you had on your parameters or also diagnose issues with the sensor itself. This unit will be able to tell you if it's not able to keep providing a good measurement. So, if it's out of range, if the cellular is not good, the software will notify you it's even able to detect if a plastic bag has caught on the bottom.
The maintenance visits- we're looking at between one to four months per visit (see below) We have customers who are going six to eight months with it. We've made sure to use only sensors that are pure optical so that is a limitation on our suite of sensors. But it means that there is a longer time between maintenance. So in those maintenance events, basically you would go out there flip it upside down, brush it off takes five minutes, power cycle, let's see the brush go around, see the lights turn on make sure that everything is running and that's about it. We also have what we call a preventive maintenance package, and that's where you can send the unit back once a year and we will do a complete refurbish, recalibration, and cleaning so that when you get it back at the beginning of the next season, it's ready to go.
So, in larger bodies of water because the unit is so light you need to have some means of keeping it from flipping this is one such method, we have different methods including a counterweight where it will automatically self-right. (see below) But this works very well - this is how the USGS does it.
So a few case studies- I don't know how much time I have left but I'll cruise through here. This is an example of documented treatment success. So you can see the three pink lines (see below) those are where treatments occurred. They were able to take this over a couple of weeks and document to their customers and any stakeholders. Here's the efficacy of your treatments and started at seven times that 25 microgram per liter chlorophyll and ended up down in the quote “swimmable range” which is not a rule, but just a guideline.
This (see below) is a turbidity event in Worcester, Massachusetts. It's a large recreational area with significant waves in the Boston area, Lake Quinsigamond. So here, they had a big turbidity event that they caught with the sensor before it was visible and caught on the water itself. So you can see the two spikes in the turbidity there and right here we have the actual you can see the sediment flow.
One quick last one- this is Utah Lake. They have terrible algae problems [...]. The two long blue blobs are the locations of our sensors. They wanted to look at the effectiveness of various modalities for treatment. And so here they had compared our tracker buoy data with third-party buoy sensors or handheld measurements as well. So, you can see our continuous data in the green and the two gray vertical lines are the times that they put in algaecide treatments (see below) The dots are where they had co-located or closely located data from their sondes. And so, you can see after those treatments for a few days it came down. This was again, very bad - this is pretty much the location that we saw the video where the current would bring in these dense blooms [...] But you can see there's a pretty good matching of the data from ours to theirs.
And I'm going to stop here, but just show a last one this was [customer name not shown]. You can see their red dot measurements compared to our continuous data and got an R squared value of .83 on that (see below). Thank you for listening! And hopefully that wasn't too rushed.