02 November 2015

Smartphones and Spatial Data Collection


    2.6 million years ago humans invented the stone tools which have changed the human evolution. From that, we haven’t changed our reliance on tools to make our life easy and better. We rely completely on the modern tools, in the information era too. Smartphones are one of them. 
    Nowadays the smartphones are just manifested beyond the purpose of communication. It can offer a lot to the geoscience studies. They could replace your paper maps, compass, GPS and questionnaire forms and could act as a personal assistant. So anyone can use it like a professional mapping device, navigator and data collector, etc. But how to do that? All you need to install the small apps on the device, That’s it. I found some apps are having great productivity and more helpful at the time of spatial and non-spatial data collection. Here I will explain how the apps act as economically viable tools for field data collection. 
    Researchers from the developing countries and nonprofit organizations might not have the budget for high-end GPS like Trimble geoExplorer and end up with using low budget gadgets. But the lower end gadgets are having limitations in data storage, visualization, data analysis and export (ex. Garmin etrex). Syncing and organizing all those data is a hectic problem too. Moreover using paper forms for questionnaire survey definitely need to convert them into digital by data entry, digitisation, assigning codes for data analysis, etc. 
Advantages of data collection apps
    The main advantage of the apps, allow us to collect, visualize, organize, analyze and manipulate the data at the time of data collection. Secondly, the user can define the survey design and data structure; we can define the necessary data inputs, which should be collected in the field and optional data which may or may not collected. Interestingly, some apps are supporting mobile and web-based platforms which are helping us to prepare the questionnaire forms with additional data like photo, audio, video and geolocation. This could be the added advantage for ecological researchers to do species identification surveys where the photos could help to identify the species. Most of these apps allow us to download the online maps and save it for offline use purpose or we can use our own map (raster format) as a base map with the help of MapTiler like software. 
    In the end, instead of writing or marking the data in a paper, a single click or a drop down menu button could reduce the survey time and which might increase the quality of the survey. At the end of the survey, we can save the data physically in the device or they can send back to the online servers simultaneously or when they have the internet connection. Most important thing is many of the apps are supporting us to export the data into different GIS friendly formats like GPX, txt, kml and shp. Additionally you could store the geotagged photos with the waypoints. So the next time, think about adopting any one of the following apps for your data collection!

Important apps worth a try!!