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Jeff Thurston — "Mobile mapping is all about convergence. It not only brings together
technologies, field solutions are increasingly designed to
connect-the-dots between professionals all along the spatial
information chain. Furthermore, mobile technologies shorten the
distance between the office and the field with field personnel
directly linked to data warehouses."

Matt Ball — "When we speak of mobile mapping, we speak about capabilities well
beyond the ability to see where you are on a map that is displayed on a
cell phone or navigation device. The idea of mobile mapping is to be
able to view, edit and integrate with your geographic information
system (GIS) data while in the field."


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Mobile mapping is all about convergence. It not only brings together technologies but field solutions are increasingly designed to connect-the-dots between professionals all along the spatial information chain. Furthermore, mobile technologies shorten the distance between the office and the field and field personnel are often directly linked to data warehouses. This technology has revolutionised field operations to office operations.

Mobile mapping is one of the most rapidly advancing areas in the entire geoinformation spectrum. The convergence of global positioning systems (GPS), geographic information systems (GIS), computer-aided design (CAD), remote sensing, cartography and instrumentation come together within many mobile mapping technologies.

  • Images are used as backdrops in portable displays for orientation purposes.
  • GPS are used to navigate, locate and record positions.
    Drawings, such as construction or engineering drawings can be displayed in mobile devices, providing details and for communication purposes.
  • GIS databases feed ‘thematic layers’ of information, attributes and other valuable information in map form.
  • Sensor details and instrumentation devices can be located on displays and recorded.
  • Information can be ‘marked up’ in the field and recorded live.
  • Processing of information can take place and recorded.

When we step back and think about it; location, navigation, communication and recording are the primary drivers in mobile mapping devices. Field operations can be located and navigated to or found, and spatial information can be displayed or recorded to further enable business decision making within work flows or to support new operations.

For example, just today Topcon Positioning in a press release of their new ‘Pocket Layout’ mobile device indicates “Pocket Layout is designed to provide the contractor with a construction site software system to seamlessly guide them through staking, topo, and grade control tasks,” said Murray Lodge, director of sales – construction. They go on to point out that it allows a user to couple blueprints directly to the device. In addition, surveying total station can be linked to the device – highlighting the interoperability, but also supporting the concept of convergence.

Looking at Trimble’s new Nomad Handheld Computer, one will find this description from their web site. “Quickly track your assets with the integrated 1D laser bar code scanner. Or capture color images with the 2 megapixel digital camera for inspection, maintenance and repair applications. Plus, you can use the Nomad’s CompactFlash (CF) and Secure Digital (SDIO) slots to add even more devices.” Once again the theme of convergence appears, coupling GPS, laser, imagery and instrumentation into this single device.

I happen to be working with ENVI 4.4 from ITT Visual Information Solutions at the moment, and if I scroll over to the Map menu item I will find GPS-Link as an item in the drop down. In this case the software effectively couples a high-end feature extraction function to remotely sensed imagery. With the included GPS capability and functions in the field I could verify my feature extractions if I wanted to, among other things.

The ESRI company deploys ArcGIS Mobile into the field for a variety of tasks, and includes an SDK that allows users to develop mobile applications for inspection, field mapping, asset management, GIS analysis and others. This example contributing toward a linkage between GIS data and the power of spatial analysis and field operations. I’ve worked with a product called Global Mapper that includes a GPS interface, but also provides the opportunity to import a wide array of spatial data formats into one workspace. Thus, this product acts as means to couple GPS to locate positions on a wide variety of spatial data.

These are a few examples that provide a glimpse into what is possible with field mapping. Botanists, military personnel, fire fighters, health care workers, utility personnel, delivery drivers, surveyors and geospatial professionals, all use these types of applications in their daily work – for professional operations.

The folks at 1Spatial produce the Radius Mobile product that can quality check field gathered information (which is probably the most prone to human error), essentially proofing construction or other data in the field. This product acting between newly gathered information and enterprise server data to maintain value. Meanwhile, a product like Safe Software’s Spatial Direct can take pretty much any spatial data communicated to your device and load it into a mobile window for use, effectively coupling GIS to CAD, but also allowing mobile operations to focus on doing the job and less on struggling with data format worries.

Some of the features I think we might see in mobile mapping in the days ahead include :

1.Provide easy-to-use interfaces – supporting more convergence.
2.Robotics at the field level with mapping devices.
3.Solar technologies coupled into hardware.
4.Artificial intelligence at the field level through mobile decision support.
5.Improved image handling on displays.
6.Financial data at the field mapping level for decision support.
7.Improved multi-language support.
8.Auto-updating technologies.
9.Inclusion of instructional video.
10.Expansion of virtual reality into mobile applications.
11.More sound activated and recording applications.
12.More expansion into machine control and robotics.

 

 When we speak of mobile mapping, we speak about capabilities well
beyond the ability to see where you are on a map that is displayed on a
cell phone or navigation device. The idea of mobile mapping is to be
able to view, edit and integrate with your geographic information
system (GIS) data while in the field. This capability has long been a
priority in many enterprises with large field workforces. Sophisticated
deployments of mobile mapping capabilities are now taking place on a
large scale, with great benefits to efficiency.

The components of mobile mapping include a GPS receiver, a rugged
handheld or laptop computer and GIS software. The combination of these
three technologies, with real-time access to enterprise data, adds
greatly enhanced insight to jobs such as natural resource management,
emergency response, utility maintenance, facility inspection, building
or maintenance crews, oil and gas exploration, and other areas where
field workers jobs are tied strongly to assets in the field.

It’s much more than knowing where you are. It’s about relating the
issue to your surroundings, and communicating the issue with others
along with its location and scope, for a quicker and better resolution.
It’s also about empowering workers in the field to conduct mapping
tasks. By enabling the people that are most in touch with the situation
to access and update information at the point of contact, you make
higher-quality updates to the information that the enterprise relies
upon. This constant update at point of contact has increasing returns
as the data improves in currency and accuracy every time it is accessed
and updated from the field.

Hardware Options

Gone are the days of carrying a heavy full-sized laptop computer
that you have to shield from the sun and connect via cables to a GPS
receiver, with a cell phone in one hand for communication, and a
backpack full of cables and extra batteries strapped to your back. This
unwieldy field setup of the not-too-distant past has given way to
handheld computers with integrated GPS receivers. These devices have
come a long way in recent years, and they continue to evolve to add
greater positional accuracy, lighter weight, larger and brighter
screens, and longer-lasting batteries.

Specifically, the professional-grade handheld devices from TrimbleMagellan
and Topcon are enabling larger field crews a means for quick access to field
information in a form factor that’s easy to handle and easy to
interface with. Software tools such as ESRI’s ArcPad software and MapFrame’s FieldSmart
make data updates and syncing with the office a an easier effort.
Customized menus and workflows can be made without a huge amount of
effort in order to streamline these tools to specific tasks.

Quality Improvements

The benefits for an organization that provides mobile mapping to its
field crews are better and quicker service, better data, a streamlined
organization that reacts much more readily to evolving situations, and
a workforce that is empowered by access to data and information.

Location is the foundation for any work that needs to be done
outside of a central office. The efficiency gains for an organization
that implements mobile mapping mean a fairly short return on the
investment. Mobile mapping will have an increasing role to play in a
myriad of industries and applications as the amount of geospatial data
increases, and as communication becomes ubiquitous.

The evolving role of mobile mapping will lead to much more autonomy
and flexibility for fieldworkers, enriching their connection to their
work, and leading to a more proactive organization.

 

 

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