Avidity Science Watchdog EX

Cloud-based vivarium management system to protect animal health, improve productivity, and assist with regulatory compliance.

Software Development UX & UI Design
Three devices showing homescreen of Watchdog Ex platform

Precise environmental control for medical research involving animal subjects is vital for their well-being and to the integrity of the research data. Researchers rely on holding facilities, known as vivariums, to ensure healthy, stable conditions for animals during the course of a study. Avidity Science is a global manufacturer of water purification systems and laboratory equipment, including vivariums and monitoring solutions, for scientific research and healthcare lab facilities.

Watchdog EX is a cloud-based solution designed to monitor environmental conditions as well as automate watering, lighting, and other care needs to vivarium systems. i3 began our engagement with Avidity Sciences while they were still known as Edstrom Industries. During the course of our work, the Watchdog EX platform became a key product in their portfolio that reflected the effort to unify their branding across various acquired organizations.

Client

Avidity Science

Project Type

Internet of Things

Design Challenge

Vivarium Monitoring for The Research Facilities of Today & Tomorrow

The origins of what would become known as Watchdog EX began back in the 1980’s with the original Edstrom Watchdog System. This system was comprised of Local Processor (LP) units that tied all of the Watchdog functions together at each animal room and sensor modules for monitoring specific environmental conditions. The software itself ran on a local network connection and access for users was configured through dedicated servers and VPNs. As the platform aged, a new version of the system was designed internally and marketed under the name Pulse CMC which promised more flexibility and ease of access as an internet-enabled solution.

However, Watchdog System customers did not want to convert to the Pulse CMC platform. Customers cited reasons being incompatibility of sensors and hardware to the new system, high cost to switch, and overall dissatisfaction with the user experience and forced use of a templating model that Pulse CMC offered. These factors also lead to poor new customer acquisitions as well. Time was running out for research facilities to update their platforms as computing technology continued to advance and many newer PCs simply could not support the archaic software system that existing in Watchdog.

i3 was challenged with designing a cloud-based software solution that would bring the strengths of the original Watchdog System into the modern era. The new solution had to support the hardware from both the first and second generation monitoring products and deliver a user experience that made up for previous shortcomings. The software and user experience group at i3 were brought in to augment Avidity’s internal team who supported the existing hardware and database throughout the course of the project engagement

Approach

Deciphering a Forgotten Language

To understand how to build a system that supported the various legacy hardware components of Watchdog, i3’s software engineers began the process of reverse engineering the communication language that these existing devices spoke using provided system documentation from Avidity. Once the code was understood, they would write a Java application to send data from the sensors and hardware to the cloud where it would be translated so the new system could understand and display the information in a web application to the user.

However, after much trial and error, the original documentation for the hardware was found to be inaccurate and incomplete. The software team adapted and changed course to work as if this documentation did not exist. The team felt more like archaeologists rather than software developers as they deciphered decades old communication protocols line-by-line. 

The true light bulb moment came quite literally when, after many long hours, the i3 team was able to demonstrate to Avidity the ability to turn a light on remotely using our test application setup and their sensor panel. This breakthrough opened the door to supporting hardware for original Watchdog users and meant Avidity’s future vision of their product was possible.

When we turned that light on and off, their developers came up and told me that not in a million years did they think we have could pulled that off.

Ben Arciszewski, Director of Software Development
Approach

Identifying User Needs Through Research

In parallel to development efforts, user experience research was conducted to understand the existing products that Avidity offered to their customers. The UX team at i3 conducted stakeholder and customer interviews as well as performed a heuristic evaluation on the Watchdog System and Pulse CMC to identify key opportunities to improve the user experience in the new system. Competitor products were evaluated and some customers were asked about their interest in these other solutions and what made them so appealing as compared to the offerings from Avidity. The findings from this research effort informed all of the subsequent design decisions. The UX team worked alongside Avidity’s project group to propose a role-based permission system within Watchdog EX that would ensure security for critical assets and be triaged for alert response.

Final styling direction for Watchdog EX

The design for what would become Watchdog EX shifted dramatically during the course of the project. As Edstrom Industries changed their name to “Avidity Science”, their branding transformed from a royal blue to a warmer red and yellow palette. The UX team rose to the challenge of this new aesthetic and proposed styling options based on the modern Material Design language in the new corporate colors. This contemporary and consistent GUI was applied in a responsive web portal that allowed users to access the platform and see the information that was most important to them right away – whether from their laptop across campus during work hours or in the middle of the night by the backlight of their mobile phone.

Solution

Committed to the Care of Valuable Assets & Client Satisfaction

Watchdog EX would not exist if not for the software development efforts by i3’s group of dedicated engineers. The Watchdog Bridge Java application is a critical component in allowing existing users to keep their original hardware and sensors intact and transition to the new platform. Over time, sensors can now be updated in smaller increments which provided a reduced financial burden on research facilities. 

Software system architecture for Watchdog Bridge, which was used to translate data from original Watchdog System hardware into the new platform.

A single-page responsive web application built in Angular serves the UI for Watchdog EX and at the direction of Avidity Science, AWS Lambdas drive the system’s serverless reporting engine. Early user feedback from beta customers showed positive acclaim towards the tree-structure of location organization and excitement over seeing any critical alerts that needed a response right away when users logged in. 

As part of the project wrap-up support, i3 developers trained the Avidity team on the basics of the UI development structure and how to do builds and deployments so the system could be taken and maintained in-house. 

Click each of the screenshots below to see various examples of the Watchdog EX platform.

Note: All data displayed is fictional to protect client integrity

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