Virtual SCADA – A Real and Virtual World Mashup

Physicist Alfred Hubler, a professor at the University of Illinois, has created the first mixed reality state in a physical system. Hubler and Vadas Gintautas, a graduate student at the school, set up a system that passed data between a virtual pendulum and a real pendulum about the physical state of each. While the real pendulum sent information directly to the virtual pendulum, the virtual pendulum sent information to a motor that controlled the real pendulum. When conditions were right, the two pendulums “suddenly noticed each other, synchronized their motions, and danced together indefinitely,” said Hubler. “Computers are now fast enough that we can detect the position of the real pendulum, compute the dynamics of the virtual pendulum, and compute appropriate feedback to the real pendulum, all in real time.” (Here is a link to the story: Real and virtual pendulums swing as one in mixed reality state.)

I don’t know if Professor Hubler is a member of virtual worlds like Second Life, but this story reminded me of the work that is being done on the Eolus One sim in Second Life (you can read about this work in the current issue of Grid Works magazine). The work that each group is producing is leading towards what I like to think of as virtual SCADA. The data is already there. The software to set up the virtual representation is there. Someone just has to write the programming to link it all. I would think that it would be very easy for some programmer or a company like the former Consolidated Electric, now owned by Siemens, to put it all together for implementation in facilities like water or wastewater plants or to be used in manufacturing facilities.

I am looking forward to the day that I can sit in my office and pull up my virtual SCADA to walk through the water plant and see what pumps are running, to walk inside our clearwell and see the water level in the tank, to virtually walk through the operation room of our municipal pool and watch the entire system of pumps, valves, and tanks as they cycle through their operations.

Some may ask why I would want a virtual SCADA when I can just walk into the real facility now to see what is going on. Well, I know from watching these systems for years, that a virtual representation will feed me more operational information in a quicker and more easily understood manner. Right now, yes, I can see the pump running and I can look at the pressure gage to see the pressure, but what about the flow. Many times, there is not a flow meter with a chart recorder right there. But in a virtual world, I can see all the physical components along with all the information about each displayed in some manner in front of me all at once. Data such as flow, pressure, chemical concentrations, and colors on equipment to indicate on/off/alarm states. I could see the water levels fluctuate in tanks I can’t normally see into. All of this would give me a much better sense of how all the equipment works together.

Also, what this would do is allow me to copy over the virtual system to one that is not tied to the real components. I can then change the design to see what effect adding valves, pumps, filter, chemical feeds, or other components would have on the system. All of this would eliminate problems with implementation of poor designs (such as the problem our city is having now that I talked about in a previous blog).

And perhaps I will still physically visit the plant every now and then. They do have coffee and doughnuts, and I can’t get that by going on a virtual visit.