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New engineering effort looks to develop a common sensor platform

Tags: Common Sensor Platform

4 people talking in front of opened enclosure box with solar panels
Staff discussing a GNSS station at the Marshall test site near Boulder. (Photo: Scott Johnson/EarthScope)

For EarthScope Consortium’s instrumentation staff, the merger of IRIS and UNAVCO isn’t just about the people. The instruments themselves now have more opportunities to team up, too. There are important differences between the many types of sensors we operate—like seismometers, GNSS instruments, and borehole strainmeters—but deploying them also involves some common components and challenges. A shared engineering framework could help simplify design and maintenance, while also making it easier to connect multiple sensors in combined systems.

Our “Common Sensor Platform” project is taking this on with support from the National Science Foundation. It starts with cataloging current systems built for various sensors and environments. Using the combined experience of what has and hasn’t worked well, the effort can then turn to standardizing designs with scalable and modular elements where beneficial, and customizing where instruments or applications present unique needs.

The project got rolling last fall with a series of staff presentations detailing different station designs, giving those who haven’t worked on a given system an initial introduction to it. These presentations have already made it clear that there are plenty of shared subsystems that could be standardized, like solar battery charging or networking to transmit data.

The first in-person meeting occurred in March, giving the engineering staff an opportunity to dive deeper, as well as get better acquainted with each other. Members of the team also presented the project to community members who attended the GAGE/SAGE Community Science Workshop in Pasadena, gathering feedback. With the outline of the path forward in place, the team can now turn its attention to working through the (sometimes literal) nuts and bolts of designs.

This project presents an opportunity to take a breath and re-evaluate designs from the ground up, finding the components and strategies that have worked best and building around them. Some of these technologies are constantly evolving, like options for data telemetry. Rather than simply solving for optimal designs today, the team will also be establishing clear engineering methods for the ongoing evaluation of new equipment so designs can evolve.

Because internal engineering decisions are only one part of the picture, this work is also going to result in reference resources for our user community. New how-to guides and other documentation will be available to help those who are planning projects or interacting with these instruments.

The Common Sensor Platform team is looking for your input throughout this process. If you have ideas or questions, please send them to cspat