We were like kids at Christmas when we received our IT gear for the CAVES 2014 campaign that included rugged high-tech tablets for photos and the daily operations report and light-weight 8” tablets with the ops procedures and data sheets to fill in, light laptops for data exchange with the dosimeter and a mini server to back up the data and bundle it for the daily data dump to Caves Control. Previous cavenauts had recommended using portable IT to allow for immediate digital documentation of all measurements and observations instead of taking notes on paper and later transferring them in a computer. The big question was: How will this equipment perform in the wet and humid caves?
We decided to carry the lightweight tablets in our backpacks and left the other gear at basecamp. Just to be sure we also carried paper and pen. The timeline for the first day was printed on waterproof paper. We had a look at it and started off – no need to power up the tablet to check this electronically, I thought. My first stop was for a CO2 measurement. This takes two minutes and is an easy activity that does not require a written procedure if you trained for the operation at least once. So powering up the tablet to consult the procedure was not necessary and recording the measurement with a pen and paper proved to be faster than fiddling with small icons with wet and dirty fingers on a touchscreen.
After the CO2 measurements came microbiological measurements which included sampling water and photo documentation. I preferred to consult the procedures on the paper
version and take notes with pen and paper – the tablet solution did not really convince me. Pen and paper was faster, easier to handle in the caves, they do not break if dropped, weigh less compared to the tablets and you do not need to worry about batteries! Transferring the data back at basecamp was quick and efficient. So for me the result of this IT experiment during progression was very clear: a good idea to test – but operationally it did not pay off! Pen and waterproof paper is still the best solution while exploring a cave – even in the 21st century.
Matthias Maurer, Cavenaut 2014