Solarcast: Behind The Music

We wanted to explain a little more about what led us to the development and release of Solarcast and some of the challenges we faced along the way. With the deployment of our Pointcast network we realized that a recurring problem with placing sensors was access to both power and internet for the devices we wanted to deploy in the field. We also found that complicated configuration requirements for devices required a Safecast team member to be physically involved with each installation, which made deployment slow. We know from our bGeigie deployment that the easier we make the process of getting data from the device to us, the more data we get. With the intention of adding air quality sensors we wanted to rethink all of these issues and see where we would go if starting from square one.

The idea to have a totally wireless, solar powered, auto-configuring device that could be dropped anywhere and forgotten and which would just work was born. We wanted this to be very simple, and initially called the project Simplecast, though we realized that the solar aspect of this really made it standout out and chose a name that emphasized that instead. It started with just a breadboard and an idea…

Original Safecast team member Ray Ozzie took the lead on all aspects of this, taking it as a personal challenge to meet the self-prescribed requirements. We opted to use dual air particulate sensors to validate each other, and provide useful field research for future devices and deployments.

The usefulness of a stand-alone wireless device is pretty endless.

And here’s Ray showing off the legendary “snowboard mount” that allows it to sit on the roof of a car for easy relocation from one place to another, on essentially any vehicle with a roof mount, in any country.

Up and running devices in Seattle:

Long term water exposure testing…

First batch being produced at Fabrikor in Slovenia:

Extreme cold weather test:

A finished device, ready to ship!

An unexpected shipping setback, it seemed in some cases the heavy battery pack could come lose in shipping and bounce around inside the enclosure, smashing everything to bits. Ooops.

Reinforcements were made and a more shipping-proof version was designed and tested:

Once testing confirmed their ship-worthiness, new devices are arriving in initial deployment locations as we speak. More details on that in a future post…

About the Author

Sean Bonner

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Sean Bonner is a co-founder and Global Director of Safecast. Based in Los Angeles, he’s an Associate Researcher at the Center For Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab and a Shuttleworth Fellow.