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Technology Overview

How does the proposed technology differ from what is commercially available?

Fully automated wellsite data acquisition is not accessible to small operators because of the high cost and complexity of such systems. It also doesn’t fit with the current model of well servicing used by stripper well operators where daily visits and paper forms are routinely used.

A major challenge of this project is to develop a simple intuitive user interface to assist the user with the data input task, which proved to be a problem in the previous grant. Without a keyboard or mouse, devices such as the Apple iPhone face what might be considered a major obstacle for data input. In designing the iPhone hardware and software features, new means of communicating with touch-screen hand-held devices were introduced by Apple Computer, such as finger taps, touches, swipes and pinches, in addition to easy-to-use scrolling screens, sliders, dials, pickers, tables, menu bars and other visual indicators.

Figure 1 shows how a touch screen can be used for data input without a keyboard. Various dials and gauge images can be used on the screen and the user simply touches the position of the dial to record the reading. This is much faster than typing in numbers (which would also be available if needed) and the visual approach is less prone to data entry errors. For example, if the user wrote 1.1psi instead of 10.1 psi on the log sheet, the error might not be caught, however on a visual dial, the dial position would be obviously different between the two readings.

Based on the millions of iPhones on the market and hundreds of thousands of applications in the iTunes store, the Apple user interface concepts have worked quite well for portable devices. There is no need to compete with desktop devices or even laptops because hand-held devices are used in a completely different way.

For this project, the user interface design will be as important as the programming. The interface must be visually appealing and intuitive, which has the effect of getting the user up-to-speed quickly and minimizes training time. Understanding how the operator works will have a bearing on the arrangement of data fields, input methods and the progression of screens. The ability to create custom data fields is also important, since each well will have different sets of dials and gauges.

It should also be pointed out that the user does not have to be proficient with computers in order to use the iPhone and it is not mandatory to own a computer. Since children and grandchildren may be likely iPhone users already, grandpa may have additional training resources at his disposal.

Many of the functions will be done behind-the-scenes, such as the program installation, maintaining the data and communicating with the home office. In the previous grant these items required several pages of procedures and description before the system could be used. This is another important difference between systems from previous years and today’s software technology.

Use of the Apple Product Family

The development of the smartphone technology for this project will be targeted toward the Apple family of mobile devices, which include the iPhone and iPad. The iPod Touch may also be considered. The same software can run across all the Apple mobile platforms, and the software is distributed through the Apple iTunes Store.

Other smartphone devices can be considered in the future, but would have to be developed as separate projects since they are not compatible with Apple products. The reasons for choosing Apple products for this project are as follows:

  1. Apple commands a significant share of the smartphone market and over 51 million devices have been sold since its introduction in 2007 including 8.75 million iPhones in the first quarter of 2010. The devices are readily available at Apple retail stores and through AT&T, and will not become obsolete any time soon.
  2. First released in the third quarter of 2007, the Apple iPhone has a proven record in the market, and continues to grow in sales and is supported by a large developer community that has produced hundreds of thousands of applications.
  3. Application distribution is simple through the Apple iTunes Store. The application and any upgrades can be downloaded 24-7 along with other iPhone applications that might be suitable for field productivity.
  4. Systems of Merritt, Inc. is an experienced Apple iPhone developer with products available in the iTunes Store.
  5. The iPhone is as rugged and reliable as any other mobile phone and protective cases can be purchased.