It's All in the Hand

GPS and GIS have become critical tools for public works agencies. This technology is essential to the efficient collection, storage, manipulation, and analysis of large amounts of spatially accurate information about assets ranging from manholes, pipes, and valves to traffic signs, park benches, and fire hydrants.

Selecting a Data Collection Device

For public works agencies considering integrating GPS into their GIS, there are several factors to consider:

Fixtures are now classified in four categories:

Accuracy. Recent advances in technology have made it easy to find handheld receivers that can deliver accuracy to within centimeters. Many business decisions for tasks such as pipe installation and high-density urban asset mapping require highly accurate positioning. Spatial data for public works assets will be used for years to make important decisions, so it's important to buy a GPS receiver with the needed accuracy.

Ruggedness. This is an important requirement in a handheld computer for GIS data collection, even for use by field workers in mild climates and nonrugged environments. In public works, the data, and the time spent collecting it, is often more valuable than the data collection device itself. If a team of workers dig up a pipe for maintenance and data collection and the computer breaks as soon as the pipe has been buried again, it's nearly impossible to regain the lost data. Protecting against such problems is easy if you select a handheld computer that meets or exceeds industry standards for ruggedness.

Open Microsoft Windows Mobile OS. Windows Mobile is the industry standard for handheld mobile devices, which makes it the operating system that provides the greatest flexibility as your needs change. By choosing a handheld GPS receiver that runs Windows Mobile, you can change or add software to match your workflow or easily customize software.

Wireless Options. As technology evolves, more database updates will be submitted from the field using wireless technology. Look for a data collection device that has built-in wireless LAN and Bluetooth so workers can send and access information from the field. Data collection devices with WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities also enable field workers to connect to cameras, laser rangefinders, and other peripheral devices.

Data Collection Software

Once the decision about a handheld computer for GIS data collection has been made, it's time to consider the data collection software. Generic data collection software typically meets these requirements:

  • Ease of use
  • Background maps
  • Basic navigation capabilities
  • Basic GPS control/status screens
  • Collection of features and attributes using a data dictionary
  • Integration with external sensors such as a digital camera.

As public works agencies adopt more applications for GIS data, you can expect to see even more complexity and sophistication from GPS/GIS hardware and software. Anticipate your needs and buy equipment that will serve for years to come.

Ron Bisio is director of marketing for the Mapping and GIS Division of Trimble Navigation Ltd., Sunnyvale, Calif.