Intrinsically Safe Big Data Collection

It seems that everywhere you turn everyone is talking about big data. It certainly has achieved buzz-word status, but what does it really mean? I recently came across this great photo demonstrating in just 8 short years the explosion of mobile devices and how we interact with them to collect data on an unprecedented scale. Click on the photo to read the entire article about big data and the cloud.


Today we all have cheap access to powerful devices that we carry with us everywhere. These devices allow us to capture high resolution imagery and share it over a network instantly. An enormous amount of information that is collected is in the form of imagery and a lot of big data analysis involves extracting intelligence from these images.

However, in areas with dangerous concentrations of flammable gases or dust such as oil & gas facilities or mines all electrical equipment must be certified as intrinsically safe in order to be allowed in those areas. These mobile devices that have so widely permeated the community are generally not certified as intrinsically safe and thus not allowed in hazardous areas. This has significantly restricted data collection efforts in hazardous facilities.

New opportunities with Intrinsically Safe Cases

Oil & gas facilities or mines are often designated as hazardous areas, which is defined as an area in which flammable gases or vapors may be present in sufficient quantities to be explosive or ignitable. In these areas in normal operation the flammable gases or vapors are expected to be stored in closed systems or containers, but in abnormal conditions they may be present in the area. Such conditions are defined under the ANSI/NFPA standards as Class I, Division 2 and under ATEX as Zone 2.

For use in Class I, Division 2 / ATEX Zone 2 areas, electrical devices must be intrinsically safe and certified as such. Intrinsically safe equipment is equipment which is incapable of releasing sufficient electrical or thermal energy to cause ignition.

The market for intrinsically safe mobile devices is very small when compared to the general consumer market. As a result the market for intrinsically safe mobile devices moves a lot slower, and is a lot more expensive than general consumer devices. Whereas a device like a Google Nexus 5 might be available for under $400, an intrinsically safe device with significantly less features and compatibility would be more than 10 times that price. The inferior cost and usability of these dedicated devices has generally seen low uptake of dedicated intrinsically safe devices.

A game changer in recent times has been the availability of cases for consumer mobile devices that turn a standard iPhone, iPad, or Samsung Galaxy into an intrinsically safe device certified for use in Class I, Division 2 / ATEX Zone 2 areas. Vendors such as Xciel are continually adding cases to support more devices.

A consumer mobile device equipped with an intrinsically safe case provides operators with opportunities to collect data like never before.

“Mobile devices that are carried everywhere have dramatically increased data collection. Intrinsically safe cases extend the range of these devices to include hazardous areas”

Data Capture - Not field data entry

Just as the electrical devices allowed in hazardous areas are restricted, so too are the workers. Workers in these environments must be certified to operate in these areas and they are fitted with personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times. PPE could typically be expected to include hard hats, safety glasses, boots, gloves and flash resistant clothing.

A worker in a hazardous environment is kitted out to be safe, not be comfortable entering data. Just because you equip a worker in a hazardous area with an intrinsically safe device doesn’t mean you have made his job easier if you are asking him to type in significant amounts of data. Safety gloves, glasses and climbing up ladders in harsh conditions would generally not be conducive to quality data entry.

The world captures vast amounts of information through photographs on mobile devices as it is an easy, fast and reliable method of collecting raw unstructured information. The ORDITAL solution provides mobile apps to make it fast and easy to capture these photographs on mobile devices and upload them to the cloud where structured data is extracted from the raw imagery, freeing workers in hazardous areas of the burden of data entry and delivering higher quality data at a lower cost to the organization.

Stephen Crampton