Failure is Always an Option: Creating in the Real World

Nov212012

This is the second post in a three-part blog series from Matt Davidson, bv02’s Lead Strategist, about his experience setting up a live-streaming video of the beluga whales at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, to be displayed in the Canadian Museum of Nature’s whales exhibit.

Challenges and Lessons Learned.

We thrive on new challenges at bv02, and the Arctic Watch Beluga Cam live stream was one of those new challenges. So new, in fact, that we had to create a technical solution to address some very specific issues we, and the industry, have had little chance to grapple with: an extremely remote Northern location, cameras that would be placed on a tower in the middle of an inlet and the need for a self-contained power source. Given the timeframe, prototyping was limited, and a lot of the work was dependent on factors beyond our control: satellites in orbit being one, and Mother Nature being the other.

Satellite dish alignment.

Being so far up north, we needed to be very accurate to align the satellite dish. There are many satellites in the northern sky, so to ensure transmission works, alignment has to be accurate down to the tenth of a degree. It’s especially challenging with very little experience with it. We knew we’d need specialized tools, since the basic compass we have wouldn’t work that far north. A little hunting unearthed the ANIK2 satellite and its Azimuth and Beam angle. We calculated azimuth* with a GPS, and used a inclinometer app to calculate the angle of the dish. Then using an accuracy tool (and lots of trial and error) we were able to get a strong connection to the dish.

Predicting Nature

When we got to the Cunningham Inlet, the whales hadn’t arrived in the bay yet. Due to the warm weather, the bay was still completely packed with sea ice, which prevented the whales from coming. We had to take a gamble to get the hardware set up, and pick what we thought would be the most likely location for the whales to arrive, based on previous years’ experience. Much to our surprise, as we were setting up the first tower, a few whales poked their heads up next to us. Success! Unfortunately, the bad weather continued and more sea ice was pushed into the bay. This kept the whales away for what seemed like an eternity (accurately, it was closer to 4 or 5 days) but when you’re itching to get something up and running, it feels like forever.

Weather

I’ve learned to expect anything in the north, but I certainly wasn’t ready for what the Northwest Passage had in store for us. The weather started to turn during our last week at Arctic Watch and the system wasn’t up and running yet; I managed to get an email out to the team that the weather was deteriorating fast and that I might be out of contact for a while .

To give an idea of what we were dealing with, in the course of a few days the weather went from sunny and clear to snowstorms with winds gusting up to 80KM/h. This all peaked after 2 to 3 days of extremely high winds and swells when our installation was torn from its moorings and swept into the Arctic Ocean by the wind. To give some perspective, the installation weighed well over a ton.

We suited up in drysuits and lifejackets ready to wade out 500m into the tides to see what, if anything, of our tower was left. At the site, we only managed to recover the batteries and satellite tower. The remaining hardware washed up around 3km away on the other shore of the bay a few days later.

What We Learned

When we first started work on this project, we knew we were building something that had never been tried before, much less implemented successfully. We took some chances and engaged in a lot of trial and error before we got to launch. Despite all of the testing in controlled environments, we were faced with environmental factors that were simply out of our control. While we knew that the cold and potential weather concerns would impact different variables, we couldn’t have foreseen the extent to which they impacted the hardware.

So this time, creating in the real world dealt us a much different hand than we had expected. We’ll be taking what we learned and using it to iterate an even better, more weather resistant solution for next year. We’ll make sure to keep you posted on what we learn.

*Azimuth is the number of degrees from true north that the satellite was located, not to be confused with the degrees of the beam angle.  Think of it this way: if you were turning in a circle, the azimuth would be how far you were turning away from true north.

Skip to sharing