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March 31st, 2015
Where does BYOD fit in for field data collection?

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The bring your own device (BYOD) movement for more personal control of our computing environment is taking hold. This is less about a mutiny against restrictive IT overlords, and more about comfort and convenience. The consumerization of the workplace where we can use our own phones, tablets and laptops has some positive impacts on productivity and can cut costs.

Our personal phones and devices are often much more capable than the kit that we’re issued by our companies, and today’s applications don’t require as much specialization of our devices. The operating system and computer form factor mean less these days in terms of the work that can be done, particularly as more software moves to the cloud and is accessed through a browser. In the mapping realm, workflows and hardware are embracing this consumerization, but there are still many instances where more professional-grade and all-in-one devices are best.

Ancillary Accuracy

Over the years, we’ve seen many approaches to augmenting the accuracy of the GPS receivers that are found on the standard smartphone. There have been special docks and antennas, as well as Bluetooth connections to surveying instruments for engineering-grade accuracy. These approaches are still in play, but there are some added options coming to market.

The new Trimble R1 GNSS receiver is a hybrid of the above approaches as it’s small and portable with a wireless Bluetooth connection and even offers post-processing or satellite corrections for sub-meter accuracy. The flexibility and compatibility with a host of devices makes this new option very flexible. There are many benefits from this approach, including its use across your devices and the ability to upgrade devices without impacting accuracy. The support for multiple satellite constellations, including GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and BeiDou, adds to the accuracy and makes today’s receivers truly global.

Assets and Attributes

The applications for this sub-meter accuracy are considerable, but it doesn’t hit all of the field data collection uses. In the urban realm, this level of accuracy is fine for collecting such things as sign or tree inventories and attributes where precise location isn’t needed. If the intent is an accurate map of stormwater or other engineering-grade information where accuracy is important for the modeling of conditions and simulation of performance, then you’d want to upgrade to centimeter-level accuracy.

This distinction between mapping-grade and engineering-grade continues to be useful and important when selecting the right hardware mix, but the barrier is slowly being chipped away at due to better connectivity to high-speed communication networks and more capable handheld devices. The field data collection that we can do these days with lightweight and high-performing handhelds, tablets and laptops is much better than just a few years ago. This continuum of greater performance that brings the office to the field is ongoing, and we can expect greater improvements in accuracy thanks to the coming of consumer-oriented augmented reality applications.

Rugged Versus Replaceable

There are several further distinctions between the consumer-grade devices and professional dedicated mapping data collection devices on the market. One of the biggest is how rugged they are to stand up to drops and weather out in the field. Productivity in rough rural conditions requires another level of hardening above what’s available to consumers even beyond custom cases. If you’re going to require good performance in the heat and cold and wet conditions, there are rugged options out there that can handle it all.

When calculating the extra spend on rugged devices, there may be instances where replacement needs to be weighed against the higher cost of ruggedization. Again, you’ll need to assess conditions and the requirement of toughness, weighed against accessibility to an outlet that sells a replacement device. When the Apple Store is around the corner, it places less of a burden on a fully rugged solution.

The BYOD movement is an important progression of computers in the workplace that fit our individual choices and the way that we want to work. There is a degree of added trust required to allow for an individual’s preference out in the field, but if the outcome is better collection, more productivity and a happier worker, then this movement cannot be stopped. We can expect more vendors to jump into the gap between consumer and professional-grade devices to increase our options while reducing the costs.

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