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Meerkat by Smart Geotech: Impressive Soil Movement Detection for Global Safety

Smart Geotech (official site) is an IoT startup specializing in sensor technologies that alert and protect against soil movements such as landslides or rock falls. As Californians (Ubergizmo is based in San Francisco, CA), we’re very aware and mindful of these issues because they happen on a regular basis in our area because of earthquakes and seasonal rains.

While there isn’t much that can be done to prevent such occurrences, having advanced warning technologies can help save lives by evacuating people when the probability of danger passes a certain threshold. That’s really hard to do because such events happen suddenly when soil can no longer retain a certain load or when a large boulder suddenly cracks.

Smart Geotech claims to have a solution called Meerkat with very accurate and cost-effective sensor hardware coupled with an efficient and smart machine-learning (“AI”) model that can send relevant warnings with a low rate of false positives.

The company’s hardware consists of a stick-like IoT sensor that should be planted at a 90-degree angle from the soil’s surface. That way, surveying slopped surfaces and even rough terrain like the ones from which rocks would fall is possible.

It sounds obvious and simple, but many competing systems rely on a flat surface because their internal sensor alignment requires it for optimal accuracy. That’s not the case for Smart Geotech, according to their representative. Their sensors are said to detect 0.01mm soil movements. That’s a much higher resolution than the 5mm that many competitors have.

Also, depending on the installation type, having a flat surface helps ensure that the sensor’s weight won’t put it out of alignment. The downside is that building flat surfaces requires ground preparation and some concrete. Sometimes, it’s simply not possible in some places.

Meerkat’s stick-like sensors must only be planted or drilled perpendicularly into the ground and remain there permanently since they are weather-proof (IP65) and solar-powered. Once there, they wirelessly transmit data back to a base station, making the deployment as simple as possible. Depending on the situation and the budget, there are several mesh wireless protocol options, such as LoRa (Long Range), WiFi, LTE, etc.

The data is continuously analyzed using an AI trained on research datasets Smart Geotech has access to. It is also trained with publicly available datasets in their industry. Between its sensitivity and AI training, Meerkat can warn hours before an event rather than minutes. If true, that could be the difference between life and death during a landslide, especially since alerts can be sent directly to smartphones.

This product is interesting because it has a potential global reach and seems very innovative in an industry not known for its pace of innovation. It is currently installed in 30 sites in Korea, such as reservoirs or construction sites, where soil collapse could do a great deal of damage. Talking about global expansion, I’m sure California could use a system like that in many strategic locations.

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