“A picture is worth a thousand words…so even at a reduced frame rate of 15FPS, one minute of video has to be worth 900,00 words.” – Me
For better or worse, advances in cellular communications are making the once seemly impossible, trivial. Specifically, I am referring to video communication. Just about everyone has a ‘smartphone’ these days and it is hard to find a new phone that does not include a camera. The resolution of these cameras is incredible (the Apple iPhone 5 = 8 MegaPixels) and product stunningly clear videos and images.
Video applications such as Apple’s FaceTime and Skype make face to face remote communications simple, fast and cheap. For service organizations, this has provided field based techs with an incredible tool for diagnosing instrument failures. There are even iPhone apps that now allow users to perform thermal imaging (how cool is that…no pun intended)! Let’s face it, the pressure these on-site techs feel when faced with a failed instrument can be enormous. End user anxiety and a ticking clock only add to the stress. The ability to ‘phone a friend’, point the phone at the instrument and have a real-time conversation about such failures brings an added dimension to peer review.
On the wired side, I have visited many research labs that have added low-cost USB or Ethernet cameras to their automation systems that allow them to monitor status remotely (many times from home, over a weekend or at night). When combined with remote network access tools like PC Anywhere or LogMeIn, it is possible to deal with simple application errors and continue assays or applications that would otherwise had to wait for human to come into the lab and simple press a key. Remote observation in this fashion requires network access and must always include IT departments to prevent unauthorized access.
Still, many labs will not allow non-employee cameras or video use within their labs. This is short-sighted (IMO), and unfortunate. I understand the competitive nature of pharmaceutical or biotech research and the commercial implications of potentially providing competitors with a glimpse of a labs inner workings, but let’s face it…it would take a pretty savvy bunch of people to gleam something worthwhile from a phone camera. Instrument failures that render an instrument ‘down’ are generally easier to diagnose and repair, however it the aberrant or irregular failures that could benefit immensely from remote observation. Unless an instrument or system is under a service contract it can be very expensive to pay for a service tech to sit and watch for a reported failure (they always happen when the tech leaves, right?).
Most labs require non-disclosure agreements or safety training prior to granting non-employees access their labs and the time is well past to include the use of remote diagnostic tools, particularly cellular video in such protocols. Perhaps seeing is believing?