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ETAG Gateway Reaches Goals Thanks to Engagement With SGCI

“ETAG aims to make data management doable for those working with animal behavior in this specific data type, whether that’s for research and collaboration by scientists or outreach by institutions such as schools and zoos.  Our key goals of creating a user-friendly interface to accept a particular data type were achieved with the help of SGCI developers and user experience consultants, by providing expertise beyond what we had on staff with the grant.  Their help has allowed us to bring our gateway to the target community, with positive feedback even in this early stage of use.” 

Claire Curry
Science Librarian, University of Oklahoma

The Electronic Transponder Analysis Gateway (ETAG) is a web tool that allows scientists to collect and share data for animal behavior in near real-time. The gateway provides a central store for researchers to upload data that can allow for collaboration and visualizations when tracking individual animals via tag reads. By using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to achieve data collection, the gateway advances studies in fields such as animal behavior, ecological physiology, and community ecology. 

The idea of the ETAG gateway was teeming with potential and value for researchers, but the project had fallen behind schedule after multiple PI transfers and, with it, the inevitable loss of knowledge. There was much work to be done when Claire Curry, Science Librarian at the University of Oklahoma, took over as PI, and it was by happenstance that a colleague mentioned SGCI to her team at such a critical point in the project. Curry said that her team was pleasantly surprised to learn about the multitude of services and resources available from SGCI, and even more so to find out that they were available at no cost, “These resources from SGCI are like a force multiplier. Having access to specialists is a powerful experience since it means that we wouldn’t need to learn a whole new skill set in order to accomplish our goals. Not having to reinvent the wheel allowed us to make progress quickly.” 

"These resources from SGCI are like a force multiplier. Having access to specialists is a powerful experience since it means that we wouldn’t need to learn a whole new skill set in order to accomplish our goals. Not having to reinvent the wheel allowed us to make progress quickly."

The ETAG engagement with SGCI was, indeed, multi-faceted. The team was able to work with a number of specialists, starting with software developers who developed a map interface with leaflet.js mapping library, which displays RFID reader data on a map interface in several different ways and also enables users to filter the data by readers, species, time, and more. From the Usability team, they received guidance on how to make the front-end of the gateway more usable. And through SGCI’s Workforce Development service area, they were able to hire an intern, Edsel Norwood, to work on front-end development. The team was thrilled that the internship provided an opportunity to mentor a student in building additional skills while also contributing to the team’s progress. Norwood, who recently graduated from Elizabeth City State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in computer science, said, “It’s great being able to take part in such an inspiring project while also gaining valuable skills and experience I can use in the future. Working with the ETAG team exposed me to different language frameworks such as VUE.js while also helping me further my professional development experience.”

Overall, the team feels that working with SGCI helped keep them organized and on track. “The SGCI consultants met us where we were and kept us moving forward. Their use of standard sets of documents and goals, timelines, expectations, and the way everything was broken down into manageable chunks of work was really nice. I also felt that everyone kept in touch and communicated well and were very flexible with our schedules. I found it a pleasure to work with everybody,” said Curry. Tyler Pearson, Director of Informatics at the University of Oklahoma Libraries, and Technical Lead on the grant, added, “Everybody was welcoming, and I got a sense that all the work we were putting in was constructive. All the input we received was helpful, and I got from consultants what felt like a sincere want to help us succeed.”

When asked if they’d recommend SGCI to other gateway projects, Curry enthusiastically said, “Yes, do it! Don’t waste time—get in the queue now.” Pearson added, “We got a lot more out of it than we put into it, effort-wise, and we were so impressed with the breadth of what was available. We didn’t expect to have a UX team available, for example, and beyond for things that we weren’t ready to take advantage of yet.” He continued, “If we ever have a grant again, the valuable lessons we learned by working with SGCI we’d be able to carry when managing a big team. It was really helpful to have the additional brainpower attacking this, forcing us to identify goals, which pieces needed development help, and helping to bring structure to our work.” 

What’s next for ETAG? Thanks to the engagement with SGCI, the team was able to bring the gateway to a place where it is sustainable, open-source, and well-documented just as their NSF grant came to an end. Some team members are actively working to grow the user base and envision that it will continue to expand as the gateway is worked into future grants.

Depicted here are a nest box for Wood Ducks used to monitor conspecific brood parasitsm (left),
an RFID antenna positioned on a cluster of flower to detect hummingbirds (upper right),
and an automated bird feeder that dispenses food to specific individuals (lower right).

Read more about ETAG:
An Arduino-Based RFID Platform for Animal Research