We’ve spoken about it many times before on this blog. It is now possible to build one application and have it run across multiple different mobile platforms. So Apple’s IOS, Android and Blackberry. There are many advantages to Mobile computing, the fact most mobile devices have a built in GPS, means location is a key piece of data all mobile applications can use.
As a company, we have a history of map and GIS application development. We saw moving our focus to mobile GIS a natural step forward in our work. The ability to find out what and who is near our current location has huge implications. We’ve also broadened our focus. So not only GIS, but any mobile application which takes advantage of GPS. The discussion below shows ArcGIS examples, but could as easily show open source tools in action such as OpenLayers and GeoServer.
IPad GIS & Android GIS
A discussion of mobile GIS is definitely warranted. It remains at the core of what we do. Though we don’t build for a particular platform or mobile device, IPad GIS and Android tablet GIS are both important to our visualization and editing mobile GIS projects. There are some interesting twists to this picture. Online versus offline. Viewable and non viewable features.
Online versus offline Mobile IPad ArcGIS
Lack of wi-fi for mobile devices remains a reality. Many tablets have been released without 3G/4G. Meaning away from home or office, using ones phone as a hotspot is required. Often people find themselves in remote areas which lack wi-fi access. But no wi-fi access does not mean no GPS. We have been working on storing base tiles – roads, satellite, topography – on the mobile device. Lack of direct ArcGIS access can be overcome by also storing shapefiles on the mobile device. Loading basemaps and shapefiles from local mobile storage overcomes wi-fi connectivity issues. Combining this with GPS, and we can still see zoom to our current location and view local layers and data.
Mobile Android GIS – Viewable and Non Viewable Features
When we talk non-viewable features lets think about underground pipes. I’m a civil engineer on a building site. I want to know where the various underground pipes run. No problem. Grab my IPad, fire up my GIS app and overlay my pipe layer. This is great, I can now see what runs under my feet. Let’s take this idea a step further. One of our super clever colleagues spends part of his time working on movie visual effects; Lord of the Rings, The Matrix. Big movies. His job is to add CG (computer generated) animations to real scenes in movies. So the camera shows real people, real mountains and computer animated characters. Clever stuff. Its called augmented reality. Seems far removed from our GIS/GPS world. But wait. Let’s suppose we have zoomed our mobile GIS application to our current location. We’ve overlaid our pipe layer. Could we now use augmented reality to see the pipes? No problem. Tap your current location marker and the map disappears and the camera on your mobile device opens. On your IPad an augmented reality engine (a rather clever piece of software) runs. It reads a CAD diagram of the area in camera focus, using your GPS location and direction of the camera. The programme matches the man hole cover in the camera view with the diagram and bingo, there magically appears the pipes which run under our feet. Move the IPad and the scene is updated. Imagine that. Just like in a movie except using real data. Accuracy would be to the inch!
We are getting a little fanciful here. We are still in the initial adoption phase of mobile. Mobile GIS, one of the more obvious applications of mobile technology, is in its infancy. But the possibilities presented by augmented reality are staggering. The movie industry have already done all the the hard work.
The video below shows the use of augmented reality to visualize a building space:
Mobile GIS/GPS Apps
A million and one uses of apps which take advantage of GPS. Where are we on a map, is there traffic congestion ahead, who is within 1 mile of my current location? Broaden this to any mobile app where current location is relevant, and we have a new breed of mobile software about to be released. In the coming years mobile applications will increasingly be written with current location in mind. To date, the mapping/GIS community and consumer marketeers have focused their attention on mobile apps which take advantage of GPS. But so many applications we use on our PC’s will be transferred to mobile, and be extended to include GPS. Open your mobile word processor application. Hit the search button and find images/information about your current location. A silly example, but you get the idea. Location will be a key component of many apps we commonly use.
Mobile GPS Data Collection
Mobile data collection has historically been, indeed continues to be done using pen, paper and a map. Some lug laptops around, others resort to phone calls. Mobile devices offer the opportunity to simplify field data collection, and dramatically improve accuracy. The days of mobile GPS data collection are upon us. As a company, we receive an increasing number of inquiries about mobile data collection. Using the timestamp and GPS location from a mobile device to gather text/image/voice recorded data. Not only can data be collected on site, but edited. Maybe updates, corrections etc. The video below shows adding features and updating attributes in a mobile ArcGIS application:
Open Source 3D Mobile GIS
I’ll admit we are far more focused on simply building the most useful and effective mobile GIS applications. But we do keep one eye turned to new developments in mobile GIS. The video below caught our attention. A 3D fly over on an Android phone using open source software. We aren’t about to jump in here any time soon, but this is very cool: