Instrumentation mixups: Call out the bomb squad!


Be careful what you leave in the trunk of a rental car. A simple instrumentation device could get you arrested and give cause to call out the bomb squad, as one university hydrology researcher found out the hard way.

It began innocently enough. Dr. Anne Jefferson, a research associate in the geosciences department at Oregon State University, had been using Tidbit data loggers, made by Onset Computer Corp ., to monitor water temperatures in stream channels around the Mississippi River. The devices were housed in foot-long sections of PVC pipe filled with gravel. After gathering data over five months, she went to retrieve them last November. She and her husband put them in the trunk of their rental car and spent some additional time in Minneapolis visiting family over Thanksgiving. They flew back to Oregon and were greeted at the airport by federal agents who had some serious questions.

Unfortunately, they returned the car at the Minneapolis airport and forgot to take the devices. The car cleaner at the airport found the suspicious looking pipes with blinking lights and immediately called the police. The police called the FBI. The FBI called the bomb squad. The bomb sniffing dogs didn't seem interested, but they still decided to "detonate" the pipes with a high pressure water cannon. Once the pipes were blown to smithereens, they gathered up the data loggers and found most were still working.

Dr. Jefferson gave the authorities enough information for them to check out the whole story and they finally believed it was all a big misunderstanding. She eventually got her 15 data loggers back. All but two were still fully functional. When Onset heard the story, they offered to try and retrieve the data, successfully.

"The data is the study, and the basis for my postdoctoral research," says Jefferson. Without it, her work in collaboration with several other universities would have been lost. According to Linda Cain, customer service manager at Onset, Tidbits are very durable because the data are stored in an EEPROM rather than RAM. Consequently, they can survive even when internal power is lost.

Ultimately no harm was done, although Jefferson hasn't tried to fly anywhere or rent a car since.

Edited by Peter Welander , process industries editor
Control Engineering Instrumentation & Sensors eNewsletter
( Register here and scroll down to select your choice of eNewsletters free.)

No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
The System Integrator Giants program lists the top 100 system integrators among companies listed in CFE Media's Global System Integrator Database.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
This eGuide illustrates solutions, applications and benefits of machine vision systems.
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
Controller programming; Safety networks; Enclosure design; Power quality; Safety integrity levels; Increasing process efficiency
Additive manufacturing benefits; HMI and sensor tips; System integrator advice; Innovations from the industry
Robotic safety, collaboration, standards; DCS migration tips; IT/OT convergence; 2017 Control Engineering Salary and Career Survey
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This article collection contains several articles on how automation and controls are helping human-machine interface (HMI) hardware and software advance.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Future of oil and gas projects; Reservoir models; The importance of SCADA to oil and gas
Automation Engineer; Wood Group
System Integrator; Cross Integrated Systems Group
Jose S. Vasquez, Jr.
Fire & Life Safety Engineer; Technip USA Inc.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me