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Automated groundwater level monitoring is managing Australia’s most vital resource. Water.
The remote monitoring of the water levels in groundwater observation bores makes the groundwater water table ‘visible’. Allowing government bodies in Australia to predict and react to changes in this essential natural resource. Protecting cattle, crops, livelihoods and ultimately the environment.
It’s enormous; as big as the main part of the USA. Which makes water a vital, precious and expensive resource to manage. There are no vast lakes in Australia. Even Lake Eyre, the biggest lake, gets less than 150 mm of rain a year. That’s dry. Instead, the water is deep below the surface. Which is why having total visibility of the groundwater and the water table is so important. Not just for agriculture to survive but for Australia’s cities to flourish, urban areas to be habitable and a lot of industries to be productive. Australians may think they can survive on a few tinnies of VB (Victoria Beer) but without efficient water management, Australia is quickly going to be twinned with the Sahara. And that means ‘g’day’ and ‘goodbye’ for this beautiful vast continent.
Groundwater really is one of Australia’s most important natural resources. For many regions it is the only source of water available. Which means for thousands of townships, farms and industries such as mines, they are totally reliant on groundwater. If it goes they go.
Groundwater can be up to a 1,000 years old. Think of it like the water trapped in the deep Arctic ice, only at the other end of the temperature scale. The water itself is trapped in an aquifer. (Here comes the technical description.) An aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock. This unique geological phenomenon is able to absorb, store and divert or transfer huge quantities of water. All below the surface. You might be in the middle of a desert but deep below your feet there could be a ‘sea’ of fresh water.
Now this water isn’t infinite. Remember, it took up to 1,000 years to accumulate. So the last thing anyone wants to do is squander this precious resource unnecessarily. That’s why drawing of water from deep aquifers comes with huge responsibilities. To make sure it is managed correctly and is sustainable for future generations. It’s why monitoring the water table and groundwater is so important.
Water monitoring is critical for the Government bodies in Australia to assess and advise on how best to manage and protect its water resources. They can’t allow groundwater levels to diminish due to overuse or become contaminated due to unregulated extraction. They also need to monitor the systems that pump water down into aquifers, for the purpose of ‘refilling’ them. An aquifer that is too empty or too full are both scenarios that need to be avoided. In addition, visibility of the level of the water table and, more importantly, the ability to ‘see’ changes in the water level over a wide area and over a long period of time, is vital for the government to better manage this precious resource.
When you turn on a tap and there’s no water we call a plumber. If that happens in most of Australia, you best call the government or perform a rain dance. Because there’s no easy fix in one of the driest places on Earth.
That’s a lot of deep holes. And most have to be visited in person to manually check the level of water. Ideally, this happens every 3 months. The most common testing method is pretty basic and involves dipping into the bore to obtain the level. A more sophisticated solution is to install a water level sensor in the bore with a battery powered data logger that stores the information. However, someone still has to visit the site, recover the device and download the info. Which means a site visit. And, as the bores are often in very remote regions, people need to travel long distances to visit the groundwater monitoring bores. Of course, helicopters can be used to visit the remote sites. Sure, it allows more ground and groundwater to be covered but it’s a lot more expensive.
Now this is where a lot of you are going to be thinking, why not just transmit the data remotely rather than visit in person. Which is the ideal solution. A sensor in the bore captures the data, the readings are logged and routinely that data is sent to a web-based system on the internet or a government server system. That way the data can be viewed and the groundwater and aquifer better managed in near real time. So no more site visits and near real time data. What’s not to like?
Well, if you think people are an expensive way to monitor bore holes, traditional satellites aren’t much better. The cost is around $2000E capital cost for the sensor and the data logger plus another $300E per year for the satellite airtime for each monitoring bore. Now, that may not seem as a big amount. However, when there are 20,000 bores across the whole continent, the costs shoots higher than a SpaceX launch so to speak. That can mean an annual satellite airtime bill alone of around $1.5 million per year for a single region, $6 million per year for all bore holes. That is no small drop in the groundwater ocean.
Making managing our natural resources effective and affordable is one of the fundamental reasons Hiberband came into being. The Hiber nano satellite service is set to dramatically change everything in Australia. The satellites are tiny with amazing global coverage. What else is small is the cost of sending data to them from anywhere on Earth. Be that the darkest jungle, busiest city, tallest mountain, wettest rainforest, roughest ocean or, in Australia’s case, a desert that is drier than a parched dingo’s tongue.
With Hiberband, the capital cost is around $1000E. So a 50% initial saving there. More importantly, the annual cost for Hiberband and the satellite airtime bill is less than $100,000 to monitor 5000 bores. That is 15 times cheaper. Sorry, did someone just drop their chilled one? Yes, 15 times cheaper. Which means two things to the Government bodies in Australia. Firstly, it saves time, money and human resources, as now there is no need to visit each groundwater bore hole to check the water level. Secondly, problems can be spotted earlier and only bore holes where there is an issue need to be visited in person.
We’ve all heard of a win win situation, but for managing Australia’s water resources that really is the case.
It has developed a range of solar-powered remote logging and telemetry systems whose sensors make monitoring groundwater levels easy and effective.
It works very simply. The levels are monitored every 8 hours and the data transmitted every 24 hours to a central server. As groundwater levels are so important, if there is an issue an alert is sent. If there is no acknowledgement within a preset time other people are alerted. Ensuring that no time is wasted in averting a disaster.
As you’d expect, there is an initial cost for the installation of a sensor and a data logger/telemetry unit. However, that cost is offset by there being less need for staff to visit every remote sites. On average, it pays for itself in the same time it takes to make up to 10 regular 3 monthly visits. Say 2–3 years.
However, as mentioned earlier, the capital costs pales compared to the yearly satellite connectivity cost. At least it did before Hiberband.
To make use of our automated groundwater bore level monitoring system in remote areas, satellite connectivity is essential. We use traditional satellite connectivity, but it is more expensive and power hungry. However, as a daily measurement is sufficient for bore level monitoring Hiberband will be the perfect replacement for traditional satellite connectivity. Saving time, money and resources no matter where the groundwater bore is located.
General Manager at Unidata
Unidata’s headquarter is located in Australia. Since the 1970s, Unidata specialises in the design, manufacture, supply and support of products and solutions for environmental monitoring and industrial measurement. Unidata is a subsidiary company of the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research ( NIWA) the peak government body for water, atmosphere and climate in New Zealand.