EcoSAT as a product and a concept was around long before its eventual release. In fact I have been working on the product since 2012, and there were others working on it long before that. I suppose there was a lot of time spent 'finding our way' over the years. We didn't exactly know what the product should do, and even once we thought we did know - we then didn't know how to make it happen. Before I started working full time with EcoSAT, and even now I hear the comment from many people that you could just ask for feedback from the farmer - but not surprisingly even a tech savvy farmer might know computers and websites really well, but developing a product that had to operate on the farm without either of those platforms is a completely different thing. To give an example some of the early prototypes answered the all too common question - I just want to know if there is water. Easy I said to myself as a bright eye'ed and bushy tailed designer. But it wasn't long after we delivered our first prototype that we discovered our simple little solution wasn't as useful as we had hoped it was going to be. There were so many issues it is embarrassing to think back to. Since then, the question has pretty much remained the same, but we have learned to be much more ambitious in our answers.
And that is really what created EcoSAT I suppose. The idea that there was no point having a product that could reliably answer just one question, 'Is there water'? because for the amount of work it was going to take to build a product with the reliability to answer that question - why not have it answer as many questions as possible:
* Is my electric fence on
* Is the fence still effective
* How much water have i pumped today
* Whats the weather like out there right now
* And so on
The second major influence in the creation of EcoSAT (Speaking from the designers perspective of course) is the idea that a farm could be run somewhat like the largest imaginable factory.
* Raw products come in
* Something happens to them which is monitored and controlled closely
* Products go out
I had experience in automation and monitoring but in reality I am making this sound much simpler than it really was. At the same time - why did it need to be complicated? The concept is the same today in the way we do things, but in order to make it valuable there needed to be flexibility in the way the information came in and goes out. Unlike a factory worker - no farmer wants to sit in front of a computer all day waiting for something eventful to happen, they have more important things to do! This is how the four products were born
* EcoSAT GOLD (Uses global satellite monitoring)
* EcoSAT BLUE (requires mobile data)
* EcoSAT GREEN (UHF Communications only)
* EcoSAT BASIC (Nation wide satellite remote monitoring)
Over many years we developed a number of ways that were suitable to use on any Australian farm to record sensor information - but the other half of the problem was to be equally as flexible in delivering the information.
The first choice for simplicity was emails, easy done! But once again this method required the user to wait at the computer for their notifications to arrive. No way that is going to happen! So as the product grew and my understanding of what communications farms and stations have available to them we added SMS, but this also required mobile coverage. Not a fantastic addition but it did mean that you could be notified away from the computer so that was some freedom. Next came the automatic voice dialer. When I was first putting this system together we could choose between a number of male or female voices. When I read that the female voice was called 'Alice' I just had to choose it since our head office is located in Alice Springs and to this day I have a picture of Alice Springs as the contact photo for when she (or it I should say) gives me a call. The thing that I like most about Alice is that for the real remote places where mobile coverage is just not a possibility, it often goes hand in hand with poor internet. But I have never seen a cattle station without a land line, which was perfect for Alice to work on. If you add an old message machine even the places with the least technology could be kept in touch with their properties.
The final method to notify the users was through our Apple iOS app simply called 'EcoSAT'. You might say that this required phone coverage or at least internet too and your right it does. But the thing I like about this method is that for users who are constantly in and out of coverage areas the app will check for updates when it can, notifying you if something has happened while you were 'out bush'.
When I read back over the core features the EcoSAT system offers today it boils down to a few basic functions and although there are so many more features that make the system as a whole very powerful isn't that where we should be starting - with the basics. If we couldn't do those things right then anything else we added would just feel like building a sky scraper on unsteady ground. These functions have come to be the core part of our system because they are what the users rely on. Getting the right information in a convenient and timely manner was the starting point to building the worlds largest factories.