This column is sponsored by ESRI
The tools to collect position and capture reality are still a specialized pursuit, where generally the more you pay the greater accuracy you achieve. Field work is an essential aspect of geospatial practice, with the drive to collect better data more quickly in order to spend more time adding intelligence to that data.
The data collection part of the geospatial technology industry is diverse, from survey-grade positioning, to GPS handhelds specifically designed for mapping, to laser range finding, LiDAR, and remote sensing from air and space. All tools in the data collection space are quite mature at this point, and there’s a growing need and interest for both real-time collection and full access to enterprise data in real time.
Overcoming the obstacles of terrain continue to be a challenge in our data collection ability. Barriers such as swamps, steep terrain and other physically challenging environments have yet to be bypassed by a technological solution where great accuracy is needed. Remotely sensed information still needs the stamp of truth from in-person visits to achieve engineering-grade accuracy. This means that surveyors must slog into hard to reach places, suffering inhospitable terrain to take time-consuming and labor-intensive measurements.
There’s great opportunity to close the gap between the need to visit a site for information and the ability to sense the details of a site from afar. Sensors are generally effective for broad-scale data collection, but there are some solutions on the way that can break through tree canopy to accurately reveal the ground below. Until then, there are a great many individuals and organizations that will be wishing for a better solution to measuring difficult terrain.
Our interest in knowing the intricacies of Earth system processes require measurements and analysis beyond simply our own ability to sense a place. Standing in a field doesn’t give you a true accounting of natural systems that are constantly evolving in that space. Without sensors to test the soil, models to understand hydrology and a constant monitor of the impacts of weather and seasonal changes, you’ll gain no insight into the dynamic nature of Earth processes.
Inroads have been made to give us a better toehold of understanding, but the full picture awaits more technological breakthroughs. Sensors that can detect and catalog earth processes are needed. Systems that combine inputs from multiple sensors for a more complete picture are also necessary.
Context in the Field
There has always been an interest to take as much data as possible into the field. The context of collected data makes the process of collecting new data so much more efficient and accurate. With the measurements and observations of those that walked the spot before, a field worker can fill in the gaps rather than starting over.
The form factor of devices such as laptops, tablets and handhelds have made good progress toward being faster, smaller and cheaper over the last decade. Yet there hasn’t been much development of late on tools that get beyond the standard stylus or keyboard interface or incorporate heads-up displays. The nature of fieldwork requires a more integrated answer to data collection that allow for hands free and less cumbersome inputs. There’s much that can be done to add better capabilities for devices that add context in the field.
Harnessing the Mobile Swarm
With the ubiquity of cell phone devices with GPS chips inside, there’s a growing promise for data collected by the masses. While the accuracy provided by the current GPS chips is by no means good enough for mapping, there’s definitely great promise for creative solutions that tap into the collection capability of the mobile swarm.
Humans are perhaps the best sensors we could imagine, yet they’re not going to remain fixed in place to log a great deal of data. Unlocking the value of point data from an undisciplined horde of mobile users will provide great context to our digital worlds. It will take some creative applications and as yet unlocked incentives to gain critical mass with this data.
Data collection tools have a long way to go before solving all of our needs. There’s still great room for innovation in all areas of the geospatial data collection space, particularly in areas that go well beyond position.
Read what Jeff Thurston has to say on this subject here.