October 15, 1999

Technical Meeting with Campbell Scientific


As PI, and with Mike Willett, sub-contracting Senior Technician on this project with me, I visited one of the company's whose scientific sensors and data collectors are most used, it appears, by biological scientists in the field. Campbell Scientific, Logan, Utah.

We flew into Salt Lake City, then drove the 90 miles north to Logan to spend 6 hours with some of its key staff. I had sent a letter in advance to its CEO introducing our Project and asking for such a meeting so that I could determine:

1. The technical specifications of the most popular (for scientists) data loggers, so we could devise wireless interfaces for them in the field.

2. The ways they connected their devices up now wirelessly (they generally use, so far, only licensed VHF, and cell phone links, and those for only some products.)

3. What might be under development, particularly new types of data loggers, integration into TCP/IP communications, client software, and any plans for further communications work.

Campbell was extremely cooperative, committing three professionals to meet with us - Art Heers, President of Engineering, Neal Israelsen, Marketing Administrator, and Doug Neff, Applications Engineer in the Environmental Group.

Campbell has an extensive array of devices they manufacture (their catalog runs to 200 pages) and they sell internationally. And they do custom design of sensory data gathering for special projects, such a monitoring nuclear waste sites.

Their data loggers range upward from limited (2 sensors only) CR510 Basic Datalogger in the $725 base price range, through what they say is the most purchased CRX10X Measurement and Control Model with its own operating system, that can handle 12 single ended analog input channels (or 6 differential). Priced in the $1,300 range, less sensors. To the quite complex and capable CR9000 system in the $8,500 range.

It was encouraging to learn that their philosophy of design tries to make instruments that use as little power as possible (they regard a 1 watt radio as a real power-drainer). In fact have a business relationship with a company in Florida, that is making, for them, an extremely low power spread spectrum RF radio (with limited range) that is connectable to their specific data loggers. We offered to be part of their Alpha or Beta test of this equipment-in-progress. They accepted the offer and will contact us when they are ready.

We also learned most all of their equipment is rated at 12 volts input power supply, which makes it convenient and compatible with many radios run from battery sources.

Because data logger data rates from sensors have historically been low across the industry by my assessment, it was no surprise to find that most of their equipment had been designed to output via RS232 serial ports, with a maximum data rate (hardware port) of 115kbps, with most data streams being lower. This is ok for analog or digital data short of real time audio and or video. We pointed out we have been asked to consider connecting video and audio devices in some field situations. They know that is the direction things are going, so appear to be developing to accommodate it also, in the future.

Now there a number of radios I have used, such as the Freewave DRG115, which is fitted for RS232 input/output. They are aware of that radio and have used it with their equipment.

We pointed out, however, that almost all current radios, because their rates go up to very high speeds (E1 2Mbps, 11Mbps, and 100Mbps) terminate with standard Ethernet, 10BaseT ports. This was somewhat new information for them, since they are not much into wireless connectivity. But they were keenly interested - so in some ways the meeting resulted in our educating them on the direction wireless is going, which they know will be an increasing requirement. Their chief engineer, a very creative designer started brainstorming outloud about possible new products.

They do have, however, not yet reflected in their catalog (1999-2000) a device 'NL100' which interconnects RS232 serial inputs to 10baseT Ethernet. We will certainly buy some of those, since many radios we expect to use will have 10baseT ports. It already includes a TCP/IP stack, so can be accept an IP number when configured.

While they are not that far advanced in incorporating TCP/IP protocols (Internet and IP addresses) into their current equipment, their developmental direction definitely is taking them toward Internet compatibility. As part of that effort, they have already shipped one model of a Server-Client system called 'Loggernet' which can manage multiple data loggers, but can put the data on a local LAN network, or go out to the Internet. The Client software CR10X operates on Win98/NT platform. $285.

They also have an 'RTDM' software that the users can use to design web display screens into which captured data can flow and be presented tabularly, or by graphical forms. $315

Finally, we got to see production work on Java, that can send applets to the clients, containing data, for web display.

We stressed that one BIG interest we had detected among researchers, was the ability to have true bi-directional command of the data loggers and sensors, in real time. Not just the capture and one way delivery of data. And urged them to take that into account as they do future designs, for which TCP/IP protocols permit. That some scientists we talked to want to be able to control the sensor, command it to take readings, and even to send control commands to one which might involve motion - such as a camera, or light sensor.

Additionally we learned of 'Media Burst' company which does satellite data, and their own product called 'Pantex' which wirelessly communicates just two readings - RH and Temperature, short distances. And we watched demonstrations of their VHF connected weather stations.

The trip and cursory survey of Campbell's range of current, and planned project, was quite fruitful, for both sides.

We made it clear we next will be visiting two Field LTER Sites (Wisconsin and Puerto Rico) which use Campbell Scientific data loggers and peripherals. When we (1) determine, in conjunction with the Principal Investigators there what field-deployed Campbell Data Loggers they would like us first to connect up, wirelessly and (2) get the precise models of Campbell systems they are using, so we can order like units from Campbell and configure and test here in Colorado Springs, before carrying them back to install in the field, for real scientific data gathering.

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