Kilauea Volcano: Improving Environmental Monitoring Through Edge Computing

June 04, 2018

Now more than ever, governments depend on real-time data analysis, alarming, decision-making and action, especially in sectors like emergency management and natural disaster mitigation. Near real-time response is now possible because of the emergence of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and intelligent Edge Computing, which enables processing and automation at the “edge” where sensors and devices reside. A Business Insider Intelligence report estimates 5.6 billion IoT devices owned by enterprises and governments will utilize Edge computing for data collection and processing in 2020. IDC predicted IoT spending will reach $772.5 billion by the end of this year. This provides a huge opportunity in the environmental monitoring sector to adopt intelligent edge technology, especially for major cities located in geographical regions prone to environmental disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic activity.

The Kilauea eruption in Hawaii may be the most recent volcanic eruption and most active seismic activity seen in a while, but there are many more locations where the next disastrous occurrence could take place, including Glacier Peak in Washington State, one of the United States’ high-threat volcanoes. In North America, there at least 150 volcanoes adjacent to the Pacific Ocean – over 130 in Alaska, 19 in Oregon, five in California and five in Washington – that we know of. Kilauea, located inside the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire,’ has presented another opportunity for IIoT and Edge computing technology to provide a solution for cities to increase their environmental monitoring capabilities and save lives.

Edge computing is a solution that facilitates data processing at or near the sources of data generation, which in this case, are volcanoes and fault zones. According to Gartner, around 10 percent of enterprise-generated data is created and processed outside a traditional centralized data center or cloud. By 2022,  this figure will reach 50 percent.

One of the main issues in monitoring remote geographic locations is the lack of cellular and/or Wi-Fi connectivity. Limited bandwidth networks in remote areas also limit the amount of data that can be transported to data centers. The scarcity of connectivity limits the ability of governments to monitor and collect seismic and volcanic data in real-time. Edge computing works in hand with IIoT devices – sensors or embedded devices – to, in effect, extend the data center network to sensor and device ecosystems. Now that IIoT, Edge computing and intelligent data transmitting technologies have emerged, the ability to monitor, collect, analyze and react to critical data is easier to achieve than before.

Computing at the “Edge”

Data processing centers are typically located in areas where high-power cloud computing can take place – metropolitan cities. Companies are beginning to look toward innovative computing technologies to help facilitate data transmission located at the source by using dispersed data networks and IIoT devices to collect critical environmental data and analyze ongoing trends in each region.

Companies specializing in IIoT wireless technology continue to provide solutions like these for environmental organizations to establish a ‘set it and forget it’ remote network for monitoring. More often than not, environmental data is located far from centralized computing locations where data is typically processed, and by using intelligent edge devices, organizations can collect real-time critical data from remote and dangerous areas and get the data back to the processing center through the power of Edge computing.

Sources of environmental data where collection and Edge computing take place range from high elevations, such as mountain summits, to the depths of the ocean. From the Pacific coast, all the way up through Alaska, there are volcanoes and fault zones where rugged embedded sensors are strategically dispersed to track environmental activity of all types. Edge computing technology can help smart cities in the Pacific coast, Alaskan and Hawaiian regions improve disaster preparedness and lessen the impact of seismic and volcanic events via constant monitoring, scientific research and technology.

Researchers on coast of northern California – home to three volcanoes and large fault zones located in the ocean – currently utilize unmanned underwater robots to monitor seismic activity off the Pacific coast. These robots are equipped with IIoT technology to allow researchers to monitor underwater fault zones, collect seismic data and deliver it back to a data processing center. With all the volcanic and seismic activity taking place at and near Kilauea, the demand for IIoT and Edge computing technology is increasing from Hawaii emergency management safety officials. Their goals are to monitor, analyze and trend early warning signals that point to earthquakes, tsunami, and volcanoes so that officials can get people to safe places well in advance.

Data Collection at the Source

When it comes to environmental monitoring, certain regions don’t have cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity. This usually means remote, mountainous areas – the areas where most seismic activity takes place. Rugged, intelligent wireless devices allow environmental officials to employ sensor technology and establish long-range communication networks that can withstand the harsh conditions at the source.

These rugged devices and sensors are placed strategically throughout a volcanic region and with IIoT technology, long-distance data links help volcano monitoring organizations gather critical seismic, meteorological, atmospheric gas and video data in real-time. Volcanic regions have harsh conditions due to hot temperatures from volcanic gas and lava flow, and drastic pressure changes resulting from shifting in the Earth’s crust. Organizations need tough, long-lasting sensors and wireless equipment to successfully collect data in areas where other technology wouldn’t survive.

Already in Peru, environmental monitoring organizations have upgraded seismic sensors connected to advanced radio networks (900 MHz Radio Frequency, or “RF”) to allow these sensors to communicate data back to a monitoring center. The data includes anything from movement via GPS monitoring, low-frequency vibration, temperature and pressure increase, all in real-time.

Data Transmitting with Low-Power, High-Performance Technology

Today, smart cities have implemented LoRa wireless data communication IoT technology to transmit data over sub-gigahertz RF bands. LoRa enables long-range transmissions – more than 10 km in rural areas – with low power consumption. Most uses for LoRa technology are to transmit kilobits of data at a max range of 24 km at speeds of 150 kbps at most. For some applications within a smart city, LoRa is a good option. But, when organizations have their processing center located in a city 96 km away from the source of the data – in this case, a volcano or fault zone in the ocean depths – data needs to be transmitted over a much longer distance at faster speeds.

Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) technology is a much more viable option, and research organizations are implementing it for low-power, high-performance RF communications in these remote areas where environmental activity takes place to transmit critical data at a much faster speed. Although it is a decades-old technology developed during World War II, FHSS remains a powerful and proven wireless protocol that spreads its signal over rapidly hopping frequencies, and transmits much longer distances than Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LoRa or Zigbee. By being able to transmit data at higher frequencies like 900MHz and 2.4GHz, it’s a long-range alternative also sought out by the oil & gas, defense UAV/drones, precision agriculture, power transmission, wind & solar, and water industries.

Because FHSS technology rapidly hops frequencies when transmitting critical data, it’s a much more reliable and secure option. The rapid-hopping provides a higher level of security that is difficult to intercept and that is highly resistant to noise and interference, which is a crucial component when it comes to collecting and transmitting vital data collected from volcanoes and fault zones that could have an impact on lives of citizens who live near these zones.

By combining IIoT, Edge computing and FHSS technologies, smart cities located near volcanoes or major fault zones can have the necessary equipment needed to monitor environmental activity, collect data at the source, and transmit back to a central processing center from long distances at speeds as close to real-time as possible. Organizations and governments located in highly active seismic and volcanic regions need to upgrade their equipment to better monitor for early warning signs and save the lives of those living nearby. As this data collection technology continues to advance and deliver results, we’ll begin to see it applied at a much larger scale as cities continue to adopt smart technology.

Scott Allen, chief marketing officer of FreeWave Technologies, is an executive leader with more than 25 years of experience in product lifecycle management, product marketing, business development, and technology deployment.

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