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Guarding against natural disasters

The flood-prone Asian regions should have public safety assets, like a large network of intelligent monitoring stations.

Asian countries like Indonesia are flood-prone regions of the world, so it makes sense for such regions to have public-safety assets, like a large network of intelligent monitoring stations.

The equipment must be sophisticated enough to provide accurate, timely information where it is needed, while also being cost effective. However, Indonesia-based Hydrosix (PDF) -- a provider of a data-acquisition and reporting platform based on embedded Linux -- came across the challenge of developing a fully featured intelligent environmental remote-monitoring solution that overcomes the limitations of a previous generation that was based on microcontrollers and firmware.

The solution also had to support new customer requirements for cameras and multi-channel reporting, while overcoming cost constraints, achieving fast time to market, and enabling early flood detection, hydrometry, and general environmental monitoring.

Flooding is a constant threat in Indonesia, with more than 30 incidents leading to around 100 dead or missing in 2012 alone.

Data from the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction ranks Indonesia sixth highest out of 162 countries in terms of the number of people at risk of loss of life by flooding. The data indicates that more than 1.1 million people are in such danger.

More than 50 remote monitoring stations based on equipment built by Hydrosix have been deployed in four provinces of Indonesia.

The systems monitor a number of environmental factors at each site, ensuring that the relevant parameters remain within a predetermined safe range. In the event that any values reach warning or danger levels, the apparatus will initiate responses according to a set of established rules. Examples include taking preventative action, alerting local officials, triggering an event in the centralized Flood Forecasting and Warning System, or sounding a public alarm for evacuation. That communication may use a variety of mechanisms and protocols, such as SMS, 3G High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA), wired Ethernet, and Wi-Fi.

Also vital to public welfare, Hydrosix solutions benefit monitoring and modelling related to factors that include groundwater and climate. Groundwater comprises approximately 20 percent of the world's fresh water supply, providing a significant buffer that can protect human populations against shortages in surface water.

Thus, monitoring groundwater levels is valuable to our understanding of how to prevent water crises. Indonesian research and government institutions, including the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology, the Research Centre for Water Resources, and local water management offices, use the devices for data acquisition in conjunction with monitoring and forecasting operations.

Similarly, systems built by Hydrosix are utilized for general climate monitoring of factors such as temperature and humidity, providing data that feeds a range of modelling and forecasting applications.

The company turned to Intel for open-source software that includes custom embedded Linux enabled by the Yocto Project (which often shares development with OpenStack), running on systems based on the Intel Atom processor.

However, when Hydrosix began the design phases of its latest generation of environmental monitoring and reporting solutions, it faced the challenge of expanding capabilities far beyond the range of its previous platforms.

New requirements included the ability to incorporate remote cameras and support communication through multiple wired and wireless channels. The company's existing designs were built on microcontrollers and firmware, an approach that was severely limited in terms of extensibility. The project team saw the opportunity to dramatically extend functionality and to position its platforms for the future by adopting a new approach, based on a fully featured embedded processor and OS. As Hydrosix engineers explored their options, a number of limitations arose, including the following:

  • Cost constraints: As a small company, Hydrosix found the expense of product development based on a commercial OS to be prohibitive.
  • Time limitations: A built-from-scratch alternative based on free open-source components offered lower upfront costs, but would have added undesirable complexity and time requirements to the project.

Endang Wachyan, managing director Hydrosix, told Intel, "The Yocto Project provides a familiar Linux environment for development, reducing time spent on porting. Having Intel architecture as a platform enables us to choose hardware partners and peripherals with ease. All that helps speed up time to market."