Written by Ben Quinn - 0422 188 164 | firstname.lastname@example.org
On September 1, 2014 the Australian Weathercam Network is 8 years old. It started with 1 camera on the back of my house at Redcliffe in Spring 2006 and it grew to a peak of over 60 cameras around Australia in early 2014 (see more below). During that time the network has largely been privately funded, over 80% of those funds coming from my own pocket. In recent years it's been harder and harder to sustain that financial support and it's come to a point where I'm simply not in a position to continue the funding. The network was recently scaled back slightly from over 60 cameras to the existing 53, which has helped, but of the remaining 53 cameras there are currently 11 out of operation in need of repair and a great many more that will need repairs or upgrades in the near future or they too will start dropping offline. I would also love to continue expanding the network, to take it to the next level, to take advantage of new locations offered to me on an almost daily basis but perhaps more importantly be in a position where I can pro-actively look for new locations that fill gaps in the current Nework, that provide a service to the local community or simply has a great view that I'd love to share with the rest of the world. The only way this can happen is to open the Network to support from public funding - in particular, contributions from the people who use the Network every day.
The funding goal for this project is AU$10 000 but that is merely an arbitrary limit that must be set. Quite simply, the more funding the Network has over the coming years the more cameras will be installed, the greater the coverage and the easier it will be to keep cameras online and capturing images.
About The Australian Weathercam Nework
Naturally the network is a collaboration between myself and every camera host - each camera connects to the hosts existing ADSL connection, plugs into a power socket, may need to be cleaned etc. In addition, there are several key people who are an essential part of the Nework.
Michael Manning looks after all of the web server resources - he keeps the website online and juggles things while I bring new cameras online. Michael also wrote some key software early on that allowed the network to expand quickly and easily.
There are key people in areas of the country that have taken the Network under their wings and helped where distance makes managing the network hard and/or expensive. Jason Harris in Darwin is the best example of this, having installed the original Darwin Network 3 years ago and helped me manage it as my guy with 2 hands on the ground in the years since. Always happy to help, always keen to take on more.
Users of The Australian Weathercam Network
While the network was originally setup to cater more specifically towards the needs of amateur weather watchers and storm chasers alike, interestingly over the years a number of other user bases have sprung up and perhaps even become the dominant audience, although it is somewhat difficult to accurately measure.
The Aviation Industry - Recreational & Commercial
Suffice to say, in any form of aviation, weather conditions and safety are of the utmost concern. A large percentage of the contact that I receive from people viewing the imagery is from those in the aviation industry - pilots identifying the local weather conditions at their departure or destination point. In fact, 6 of the cameras in the Network (Newcastle, Murrurundi and Tamworth NSW) were setup specifically for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter to monitor conditions from an iPad in their helicopter!
Amateur Weather Watchers and Storm Chasers
A large and vibrant community of amateur weather watchers and storm chasers exists in Australia, these cameras give them a birds eye view of 'someone else's weather' at the click of a button. Most cameras face S or SW to capture storms moving towards the camera and for the best view of those in the distance. By a very large margin, the highest 'spikes' in the traffic to the Network are on days when severe storms are threatening large population centres like Brisbane. In that respect, cameras positioned around the city in key storm breeding grounds allow people to see storms hours in advance and even gauge their strength visually through the images, in addition to using the BoM radar images and warnings. The potential community safety benefits here are almost limitless, as long as people are aware of the network and utilise it.
Weather Forecasters, Researchers and Commercial Entities
Funnily enough, one of the most common entries in our traffic statistics is one from the Bureau of Meteorology. Naturally a visual indication of what the sky is doing at key locations, when used in conjunction with other guidance, can be a valuable tool in weather forecasting. In that respect many private Australian weather forecasting companies are known to make regular use of the imagery.
Just About Any Reason You Could Think Of
Even after all this time, I'm often surprised at what use people find to follow a camera.... it doesn't even have to be weather related. It could be someone keeping an eye on their boat moored in a harbour in the foreground or someone looking at traffic levels on a street that just happens to be in the view. It could even just be the view itself - an outlook over water, mountains or a scene that reminds them of home when they're abroad.
Keeping the Ball Rolling - The Plan
If sufficient funding can be raised by this initiative, the plan is to
- Repair all offline cameras and solidify existing installations that are approaching their end of life
- Take advantage of a large pool of hosts offering great views, in great areas and with enough enthusiasm to approach me to host a camera. This is by far the ultimate camera host, someone with an interest in what's happening. There are locations on offer in all corners of the country.
- Pro-actively seek out new camera locations where they're most sorely needed. In most cases that will quite literally involve getting in the car and driving to that location. Knocking on doors, approaching businesses. Someone will eventually be interested in the idea, have a suitable view and host a camera. The camera equipment is always provided and essentially the host pays nothing out of their own pocket, they simply provide the camera with access to their internet connection and plug it into a power point. Business's literally get free publicity!
Lessons Learnt, New Technology
When I first started the Network the idea of a 'webcam' was some tiny little image embedded on a webpage - half the time grainy or slightly blurry and just not overly pleasant to look at. I could have re-produced those images and taken the easy way out by buying an off the shelf webcam solution... but I didn't. I developed a custom camera system that would produce exceptional quality imagery and really bring a view/scene to life, make it nice to look at, defy peoples perception of what an internet webcam was like. This is without a doubt one of the reasons the Network has flourished over the years. Not only does the high quality imagery attract viewers but it also attracts hosts - people want to show off their view.
There was and continues to be a down side though - the custom solution has some moving parts and uses some components which are somewhat perishable. Covering the cost of the installation and giving my time to the cause is one thing, having to re-visit installations at 6-12-18 month intervals to repair components or constantly debug problems which are related to using the cheapest possible component is another - it's expensive and extremely time consuming. With sufficient funding though new components can be purchased that have extended life spans (as opposed to second hand equipment). This would solidify the existing network.
Moving forward, the majority of new installations will be using a new camera system that's cheaper to build, more reliable and has a much longer life span with no moving parts. Image quality is still very good during the day time and all things considered the positives of the new system far outweigh any negatives. This is the future of the Network and will allow it to expand in leaps in bounds.
You can be involved
In an effort to allow people to be involved even if they're not hosting a camera, any dollar contributed to the network will come with a certain number of voting points attached to it. The more you contribute, the more points you get for each dollar. The bracketing for the voting points is shown on the right hand side of this page. Once fundraising is complete and there's some idea of the number of cameras that could be installed over the coming months, a pool of potential locations will be drawn from the long list that's on offer. This should number in the order of 30 locations, give or take. From that pool there'll be at least 15 locations that people can vote for. If you would prefer a camera showing the surf on the Gold or Sunshine Coast (with a sky view of course!), you can vote for that camera. If you'd prefer a camera showing the boating conditions in Moreton Bay, you can vote for that camera. If you'd prefer a camera in the heart of the storm breeding grounds W and SW of Brisbane, on the Highlands of NSW or literally anywhere in the country, you can vote for that camera.
Risks and challenges
Maintaining and expanding the network includes many challenges but the 3 main ones are
- Time : My time, the time that each host offers, the time that everyone in every aspect of the Network offers.
- Money : The cost of purchasing components and replacing failed components over time
- Balance : Finding the right balance between having a large network with a high number of cameras, having enough time to manage it on an ongoing basis and have enough funding to keep cameras online
We all have day jobs so we can't run around all day building, installing or repairing cameras. Ultimately this means that the Network will expand at a reasonable pace in coming months and years but not at break neck speed. In the lead up to the 2014 storm season camera installations could peak in the order of 2-3 per week through the months of September and October, but after that installations are likely to take place on a scale of perhaps 3 or 4 per month. Spread over the next 12 months that could easily be another 50 cameras added to the network - significant expansion by any measure.
The biggest different between this push for expansion and previous pushes is a new camera system that will offer far greater long term benefits - essentially lower long term running costs. Again, this is the key to the future of the Network and it will allow it to expand with far less limitation than in previous yearsLearn about accountability on Kickstarter
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