Augmented Reality SCADA Keeps a Critical Telescope in Top Shape on Top of the World
Maintaining mission critical infrastructure is a huge challenge, no matter if it’s for generating power at Niagara Falls, broadcasting television signals from coast to coast, or treating drinking water for some of the world’s biggest cities. It is even more challenging if it’s for an expensive and complex facility located on the top of a mountain, where any passing storm can prevent the operator from traveling to the site and making sure things are running safely and smoothly.
Meet the Man on the Mountain
The Gemini Observatory is made up of two optical/infrared telescopes. Gemini North is located on the Mauna Kea volcano, on Hawaii's Big Island and the other is on Mount Cerro Pachón in Chile. Since 1996, Paul Collins has been the electrical supervisor at Gemini South in Chile. For many years, Collins was frustrated by his inability to remotely monitor critical systems when the team could not travel 2,700 meters up the mountain due to bad weather. To keep tabs on the status of the telescope’s critical systems, Collins did his best to create his own remote connectivity strategy, but could not connect to all of his systems inside the firewall. This led him to begin researching SCADA solutions.
While supervisory control and data acquisition applications (SCADA) are usually associated with industries like water, power, and manufacturing, Collins recognized their ability to unify their varied systems and provide a secure way for observers and maintenance staff to safely access the telescope from their basecamp facility or from anywhere else. After trying many SCADA products, he discovered VTScada, a comprehensive platform that could communicate with their diverse range of hardware using built-in, direct device drivers like Modbus and SNMP.
Bringing AR SCADA to the Mountaintop
Collins first downloaded the free industrial license for VTScadaLIGHT and reached out to Dave Spencer from VTScada for help connecting to their Modbus PLCs and SNMP devices. He ended up purchasing VTScada’s Dual Server Premium package, which includes two configuration/runtime licenses, redundant Alarm Notifications, unlimited thin client connections, and training credits. He used these credits to take the basic training course at VTScadaFest in Orlando, Florida.
Collins was then able to create a sophisticated application that allows the support team to remotely monitor vital systems such as UPS units, air compressors, fire alarms, and the telescope’s complex cooling infrastructure. He also created custom screens that allowed the Telescope’s remote observers to see critical information such as dome and shutter positions as well as alerts for rain, earthquakes, and loss of communications.
Augmenting Reality and Connecting the Two Systems
Collins then turned his attention to ways of leveraging this SCADA application with an emerging technology that would provide an “augmented” view of their remote system.
He watched a demo on YouTube that showed augmented reality being used on a HoloLens, which piqued his interest. He researched the market extensively and found the demo he wanted on the Aircada website, a developer of industrial Augmented Reality solutions. In the demo, an operator walked through a plant room using a tablet to see animated process values, trends, and alarms hovering over various pumps and motors.
He reached out to Shawn and Wiley from the Aircada website and connected them with Dave Spencer from VTScada and a member of his IT team. Together they worked out how to connect VTScada’s real-time and historical data with Aircada’s augmented reality interface. Now, instead of walking around with a checklist, Collins can physically look at a pump in real time and see its amperages. He can pull up a trend of real-time data and look back over the last hour, day, week, and more, and see any changes in the averages. Moreover, the solution automatically provides a built-in maintenance record.
For more details, please watch the video: Gemini Telescope Combines SCADA and Augmented Reality for Critical Remote Monitoring (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMhMaNzJz8w)
The original article was published in Delta Americas’ “Delta Digest”, in the October 2022 Edition. The Gemini South Telescope and NOIRLab names and logos are trademarks of NSF's NOIRLab. Gemini Telescope images courtesy of NSF's NOIRLab.