Sep 17, 2010
The ocean is at your fingertips and even in your pocket with NC’s latest mobile applications for the iPhone, iPod, iPad, and Android. Users can retrieve the latest readings from most of the sensors connected to our observatory, in real-time, anywhere a data connection is available, giving scientists or any interested person unprecedented access to data and imagery.
The concept of the application is straightforward: launch the app, find a device, and view the latest sensor readings. But, as with most software, the devil is in the details. And in this case, the glitches lie in learning new platforms and adjusting to the constraints of small handheld touch-screen devices. After a few months of development and several iterations to the applications we are pleased with the results and proud to make them freely and publicly available in the Apple App Store and Android Marketplace (Search for “NEPTUNE” on your Android phone).
The main screen of the application lists all the devices in our observatory, organized by site location. Allowing the user to quickly scan the list, select the device of interest, and see a screen detailing the latest readings for all the scalar sensors on the device. Users can mark a device as a favourite, making it easier to view the devices of interest in subsequent use.
Latest sensors readings are valuable and provide confidence that a device and its sensors are operational. However, to help provide even more meaning and perspective to the readings, users can plot real-time or archived data for any time period using quick plots. Plots can be challenging to interpret in portrait mode, so we added the ability to intelligently scale out the plot when the device is rotated to landscape mode, making the plots easier to read.
Our iPhone and Android applications also support the cameras on the NC observatory, allowing users to view a live stream from the sea floor. Currently this feature is limited to the three black and white cameras at Barkley Canyon but will expand to include more cameras (including HD) as they become available.
Creating a usable and intuitive application was a key design goal. For this reason, the applications use the standard User Interface elements available on the devices and the User Experience is consistent with other applications on those platforms. To help conserve data usage, retrieval is not automatic and requires the user to actively refresh the readings. In addition, live video can only be streamed by explicitly selecting to do so.
Another feature of the application is the inclusion of a Media screen, accessible by clicking on the Media tab. This lists some of the videos that are currently available on NC’s YouTube channel and provides an excellent means of demonstrating some of the exciting aspects of the NC Project.
Both the iPhone and Android application are available in their respective environments (the Apple App Store and the Android Marketplace respectively). We are pleased to note that our iPhone app was highlighted by Apple as New & Noteworthy in the iTunes apps store.
In the near future we hope to add support for a Notification System. With this, users will be able to receive a realtime notification when an event of interest occurs. The event could range from an obvious data error to a more subtle change in sensor reading, alerting the scientist and providing them with the ability to react in a timely manner at any time of day. We are excited to see what impact a mobile device will have on our Notification System. New feature suggestions are welcome and we look forward to adding more useful features in the future.