As I suspected it took some time to locate a donor who had sufficient interest in the project that they were willing to give away money! Now that we have the promise of support, I have given TotalRf the go-ahead to purchase the equipment for the microwave link. During the wait, I have located a company that makes underwater cables and we have finalized a design. The cable needs to include the wires for the video signal, for the command signals for controlling the pan & tilt and for power. Another problem is that some of the power is "lost" in the cable (as heat!) and so we had to add wires to let a computer sense if enough power is really reaching all the way through the cable. Since I was paying big bucks for a custom cable, I decided to add some extra or spare wires so that if we wanted to take data from remote instruments near the camera, we wouldn't have to buy another entire cable! So, now there is nothing to do but to wait until all of the parts we ordered come in and everything gets put together.
It has certainly been slower than we had hoped! When a company says 2-3 months, sometimes they really mean that and more. The cable has arrived at TotalRf where the engineer has also received all of the microwave stuff. He has to integrate all of the parts into one weatherproof box and to create a special computer board to control the "handshaking" or communications between the computer and camera. We needed a special board since we have the extra, lipstick camera and to sense the power.
The hardware now all works but we need to buy new software! Just like at home, software is always under revision to improve it and Perceptual Robotics has upgraded its software since we bought the system last year. Now that TotalRf has the new software, the final tests are complete and they have shipped it to me. I am expecting 13 boxes of gear.
All of the stuff arrived and I unpacked it. As a Marine Biologist, I don't have a lot of expertise with microwave equipment so I am not completely sure what I am looking at! At least my education in electronics and messing around with computers over the years means that I can puzzle it out (along with a few emails to TotalRf!!). Unfortunately, the big cable has been held up on the docks and so I can't test anything for a while.
There was an article about the coral camera in the local newspaper and the owner of a local cable company, SwitchWorx, (not TV cable, but actually laying cables for data, video or voice in buildings) called me to offer his assistance with installing the solar panels and microwave gear at North Rock. Chris Buchanan came out and looked over all of the equipment and we have planned exactly how we will install the panels 40 feet above the ocean on the sheer side of the lighthouse.
"Where did my summer go" is a common refrain in September as the school year starts. For me, it went to teaching Coral Reef Ecology and then vacation and a meeting of the Ecological Society of America where I gave a lecture in the opera house in Spokane Washington. But that is another story. Basically, I didn't get much more done on this project so I got right onto it after returning.
Rather than using the 1000' cable, which was too big a spool to fit into my lab, I decided to create a small, spare cable from the original one that came with the camera. There were several reasons for this which I had to keep reminding myself about as the problems and frustration mounted! First was the spool being too big, as I mentioned. Second, once the camera is on the reef, if the camera system doesn't work I will need a way to test just the camera without all of the cable & microwave stuff. With the spare cable, I can bring a computer and the cable on our boat and connect directly to the camera for testing. Third, during the installation, the main cable might be installed at North Rock but the camera still stuck onshore due to weather problems preventing final installation. I could then still use the camera with the spare.
So, why the frustration? Well..... I hooked up the camera to the magic black box (literally black), that takes the wires (and signals) from the computer, splits them up as needed for communicating with the camera and sends the signals down the correct wires for the camera system to operate. Problem was that it didnīt work! I had taken an ohm meter to the big cable and checked out the resistence of each wire pin at the camera end and then found the pin at the other end that matched it since there was no (actually very little) resistance to current in the wire as opposed to being an open circuit. This process is called "ohming out" a circuit. The wires matched up with the drawing that I had from TotalRf so, when it didnt work, I was stuck! The camera video was OK but the control signals for the pan & tilting of the camera didnt do anything. As is usual with this sort of thing, one doesnt know where the problem is and the software people and hardware people each assumes (actually knows!) that it really isnt them but actually the "other" guy or, better yet, Fred, the guy in the middle.
Eventually (like 2 days) I was able to track the problem to two wires that were switched inside the box but were not switched on the wiring diagram! Once I reversed those two wires, all was well. It is amazing how a simple problem can take a long time to track down.
Chris and I finally got some good weather and went out to North Rock with all of the gear to install the solar panels. We brought drills, saws, stainless steel bolts and electrical test equipment as well as a bosun's chair. The chair is used by sailors to work on the rigging of the ship by tying a line to the mast and then hoisting themselves up in the canvas chair to where they need to work. We simply modified the idea and tied the chair off to the top of the lighthouse and then Chris (not me!) dropped himself (actually he very carefully stepped) off the top and lowered himself to the correct position.
You can see Chris in the picture and, below him, Keven holding the "belay" or safety line. I am on the top of the lighthouse with the camera and with the tools to send down to Chris. Note the breaking waves 60 feet below me! We had quite a dangerous time landing ourselves and the equipment, sustaining some damage to the side of our small boat.
The best laid plans didn't quite work out. The curvature of the lighthouse was too great to directly attach the legs of the solar array and we will have to return with a new approach. After some discussion, we will use a fast hardening epoxy compound to mould a shim that will fit underneath the transverse mounting bracket (trust me, there are lotsa little parts and names that I wont bore you with!). However, we will need to come back out another time.
A big month for progress. Anchor Marine, our underwater contractor, has made a trip to North Rock with their barge and divers. They have cut a trench in the surface of the lighthouse platform so that they can lay in some conduit to protect the cable as it passes through the high energy surf zone. Imagine how the base of the lighthouse must look during a hurricane and you can see why we are concerned to protect the cable! They will need to return to actually lay the conduit and cover it with underwater cement. They were also able to prepare the site for the camera itself by leveling a small, nearly level spot on the reef where I have picked to put the camera.
Frustration again. The weather for the rest of the fall has been beautiful but far too windy to return to North Rock. Since we need to work right at the lighthouse, if the seas are too high, breaking waves make it too difficult and dangerous to land and work on the solar panels or to work on the conduit. Although we have occasionally have had one or two calm days, the ocean around Bermuda has remained full of waves (swells) which break on the "beach" at North Rock.
Finally we had a chance so I went out to try and land the remaining equipment that we couldn't land in September because of the danger of breaking the delicate solar panels. On Thursday, we went out but turned back after deciding that it was still too dangerous. We tried again Friday morning and again, decided it was too difficult but that later in the day, it might be possible. That afternoon, some of the staff from our oceanography program, Rod Johnson, Julian Mitchell and graduate student, Clare Morall finally were able to make it out and move our equipment into the lighthouse. I missed the excitement but heard it was still quite a struggle.
As we near the end of the year, we are still waiting a weather window to safely go back out and install the solar panels and for Anchor Marine to move the barge out there and lay the conduit. If we can do those two things, we can rapidly finish the installation since the remainder of the work does not need such calm weather. We can only check the weather each week and hope.