Journal: Photonic Innovations

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Journal entry: 20 Nov 2017

IMAGE: Our new Hummer Style headlights add some dynamic bling to the system!

Shane Dowd: Over past two weeks, we mainly focused on preparations for the pitch, both on testing the all-important technology demo, and on developing the best version of the story to tell the judges. Having regular team catch-ups has probably been the most important aspect of this – it gave us the opportunity to share our views, and debate what should go in, and what should be left out.

As a result, the whole thing is coming together nicely. All the key components are now pretty much in place and – barring any last-minute surprises – the final few days will just be about ‘tidying up’.

Tech-wise, we want to present an object of disruptive beauty to the judges, so we’re still tweaking the final product form. We are all looking forward to a great day out on the 24th!

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Journal entry: 7 Nov 2017

IMAGE: Methane test cell contained within a 10 cm optical path.

Shane Dowd: We haven't really had what you would call a primary focus over the last couple of weeks… we’re more in the ‘Get on with finishing everything on out to-do list’ phase! On a high note, the proof of concept is complete. The technology is viable and operational in the confined optical space we need for the wearable device. For demonstration purposes, we still have some prettifying to do :-)

Additional market feedback for confined space devices has highlighted other avenues for added value to end customers. Our original concept device and support package will eventuate into a much more capable product.

Progress is ongoing for the final pitch event – we have lots of ideas and thoughts for the story, and how to best capture the essence of the solution. Recent fatalities due to hazardous gas incidents globally have reinforced how important our roles are - now and in the future - for keeping the NZ workforce safe.

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Journal entry: 24 Oct 2017

Image: Multi path optical cell and line of sight cell for miniaturization.

Shane Dowd: The primary focus for the past couple of weeks has been on sorting out the firmware associated with methane concentration calculations. We have been busy with test apparatus and calibration gas equipment.

We have also been developing and prototyping unit housing. This is actually going a little slower than we’d expected – it turns out to be surprisingly difficult to miniaturize structures that function well on the bench! We still have plenty of time to get the wearable form operational, but the priority now is to pull the concepts together into final solutions.

Bootcamp #2 was a great day and gave us all the confidence that our progress to date has all been on track, and it has given us a clear focus to get to the finish line successfully. We know for sure that the next two weeks are going to be crucial to the success of this project.

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 Journal entry: 9 Oct 2017

IMAGE: Spectral analysis of methane gives us the most accurate detection system on the planet. 

Shane Dowd: During the past couple of weeks, we’ve been doing calculations and simulations of the methane absorption line at 1651 nm (see image above), to figure out exactly how to quantify the concentration of methane present in the sensor from the detector laser signal. And the result of that analysis is that we now have the required firmware for our electronics. All that’s left is to get the optical system in place and test the solution.

This period has also been productive in terms of market research. We spoke with a member of the Dunedin Fire & Emergency about wearable sensors, and he made a helpful suggestion regarding the audio alarms that many safety professionals already use. He also talked about the pros and cons of where (on the body) is best to wear a wearable. The CEO of Mines Rescue New Zealand talked to us about the different sensor types they rely on in different scenarios. This prompted an interesting line of thought for additional functionality and features for our final unit. And finally, we spoke with the head of Ammonia Safety New Zealand. We were delighted to hear that he’s interested in having a wearable LEL (low explosive limit) ammonia sensor that connects to a local data management system to visually render location data. This is a function that our methane solution will provide.

The feature list for our product grows with end-user feedback, so we’ll be delivering a wearable methane sensor that has added features and options to come.

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Journal entry: 27 Sep 2017

Shane Dowd: The last couple of weeks for us have been quite interesting. We’ve been mostly focused on end user desires and requirements. It has been quite difficult due to make contact with the right people – we’ve have had some success but its limited. So, we’re hoping to make more of those connections that will help us to refine the end product.

Parts have started arriving, and bench testing for additional features have been going well. Optical cell, laser setup and design are also underway, and results of the initial tests on our displays have been better than expected. The dashboard is ready for the remote unit, and it’ll look great when operational! Our battery packs are very durable and long-lived, but in order to fit the final unit better, we may need to downgrade them slightly. All of the other components including the Sigfox and LoRa (see the image in our last entry) are operational, but we’re still figuring out which combination offers what we’ll need for the final product…perhaps we’ll combine all of them!

We also had a surprise this week – alongside the wearable device, we’ve also have identified a potential market for a fixed unit! So, it’s full steam ahead for us. 

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Journal entry: 13 Sep 2017

IMAGE: We’ve been using some commercial boards (show here) to help progress our own system 

Ian Farrell: The past few weeks have been busy – we’ve been doing a lot of research into wearable technology options, in order to determine the absolute must-haves for our device. Alongside this, we’ve been reviewing target markets, and identifying the essentials needed to make a viable product for each market segment. Our industry contacts list is growing, and through those groups, we hope to gain valuable insights on the end-user and owner requirements, before we commit to the final design.

Primary system components are starting to arrive for initial prototype functionality testing, and we aim to have an operational benchtop system ready in the next couple of weeks. Our materials research is progressing too, and we’re honing in on the construction methods for the casing. Another key bit of tech is our antenna, and we’re currently investigating a low-power, long range option for one specific sector. And finally, we’ve set aside our original optical cell design for now, and we’re exploring other options, including sensors that utilise infrared wavelengths.

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Journal ENTRY: 29 AUG 2017

Daniel Healy: Our system, the WLD4005, is a wearable laser-based gas detector that ensures people who work around methane are notified if levels of the gas are high enough to pose a danger to their health. Things have been progressing well since reaching the finals of the C-Prize. On the business side of things, we’ve been exploring the wants, needs and interests of the users. Recent conversations with end users have been highly informative. For a start, "lone worker" protection is a high priority for operators, and that’s been good to hear, as it’s something our sensor can already offer. But they’re also looking for multi-gas detection systems… this is beyond the scope of our original brief, but it looks like we’ll need up-spec our project if we want to make product commercially successful.

On the tech side, we’ve been procuring components for our device – lasers, batteries, radio technology, displays, etc. The big question we’re facing at the moment is how best to construct the optical cell that forms the cavity in which we’ll detect the methane gas. We think we know how to make it small, but how to make it robust enough to be worn by a worker, while maintaining alignment and accuracy is more difficult, and is somewhat outside our core expertise.

Complicating this is the user feedback – the desire to have a single wearable unit that can detect multiple gases – at least one or two others beyond methane. We think this may be possible, but it’ll require changes in the electronic measuring method, as well as the optical design. No matter what, we have plenty of work to do!