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I'm having some trouble trying to convince some people of the advantages of having a entry level GPS enabled PDA for asset management.

I've been asked to look into GPS enabled cameras, I've since thought it through and recommended a GPS enabled windows mobile PDA.

My thoughts are the device would not only allow us to capture accurate enough location based information about the asset (it should already be entered into the system), but also allow some attribute data to be input about the asset rather than having to write a paper report out each time and enable this information to be reviewed in the field at a later date.

I've been hit with some heavy criticsm at work about the advice, I'm wondering if I'm heading in the right direction I would have thought the benefits of the choice would be a no brainer ...

So my questions to the community.

Is a GPS enabled PDA able to be used to geotag photos out of the box?

And is the device functional beyond just geotaging photos?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 4 down vote accepted

This is all just my opinion but here are my 2cents worth, but yes you are on the right track.

It really depends on the asset type you are capturing for a start and what kind of information you are planning to collect, and how much time you have to train people etc. Generally I prefer the PDA route as it allows faster information processing and cuts the middle man out in a effort to remove the chance of mistakes in data entry.

The PDA route is not a bad option and it's a shame that you hitting heavy criticism with it but it happens I guess.

If you are on a WM and MapInfo there is GBMMobile which you can use the inbuilt/external GPS to capture points and it will also handle using the onboard camera and attach the photo to the point for you.

There is also a open source PDA program: http://www.gvsig.org/web/projects/gvsig-mobile/tour/image-gallery/ but I have never used it so I can't tell you how good it is.

The biggest problem we have had is finding good and stable PDAs with GPS and Cameras, you can buy rugged ones but they range about $1500-$3000+.

Depending on the asset type we have taken a few different tactics, this is due to having a small GIS/Asset team.

We have both PDAs and a GPS enabled camera, for simple assets we tend to use the GPS enabled camera. We get someone to go out and take photos of the assets, I then strip out the GPS coordinates with a MapInfo based program I wrote, I then have a piece of software that someone in the office can sit down and go though the photos and give the point some more data eg Asset Type, Condition. Of course this only works for really simple assets that don't really require measurements (play eq, park seats, bins are a good for this).

The second way is to use a PDA with GBMMobile to capture the asset and fill out the information out in the field, for more detailed stuff.

The third way is to capture the points with GPS, give them a asset number and then print out a map and some forms to capture the information and give it to a field crew. We use this option to capture inverts and manhole conditions for our sewer network. We use paper here because we couldn't find any software that really did what we needed(well) and the crews work on and off this project and the last thing they need to be worried about is a electronic device stuffing up in the middle of a job.

Pros:

  • Faster data entry
  • Avoid data entry mistakes in the office from paper eg Bad spelling, incorrect values.
  • Can use form validation eg Downstream can't be higher then upstream.
  • Pictures for asset types rather then codes
  • GPS position and picture(on selected models) of asset at once.
  • Quicker office processing - bring PDA in. Sync. Done.
  • Map of existing assets and numbers at fingerer tips.

Cons:

  • Cost.
  • Training.
  • Finding good software.
  • Getting past resistance of people used to paper.
  • Keeping them charged.
  • Keeping them all up to date.

My general advice is it is a good way to go, but start small and grow out. Don't try and roll a heap of them out to field crew straight away or you will have more resistance and non-compliance, then you will have no data at all.

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We've found a rugged pda with a 3mp camera, gps, 640x480 screen and under the $2000 (AUS). I'm toying with writting the software myself (have a little programming under my belt), a real basic forms application, capture point, capture image, input attribute data if relevant (use drop downs and such where relevant) Great advice cheers :-) –  Jamo Aug 30 '10 at 4:54
    
what software were you thinking about developing with? Eg ESRI, MapX –  Nathan W Aug 30 '10 at 5:01
    
We use a wierd combination at the moment. Bentley Map as desktop GIS editing and Autodesk MapGuide for web publishing. I would be able to write an app to import our data from the device straight to our datastore and hopefully share such an app. –  Jamo Aug 30 '10 at 22:47

Jamo, You're on the right track. The biggest advantage is in data integrity. The sooner you get it into electronic format that fewer opportunities to introduce errors. The other is consistency. If you have an application with restricted options you can be sure that you'll get consistent results. There's nothing worse than different people calling the same thing by different names.

With regards to the GPS, yes, get something with a built in GPS. So much more manageable, and if you do end up in a situation where an external GPS would be advantageous, bluetooth GPS' are cheep to add at a later date.

Don't restrict yourself to WM devices. We're at the point with HTML5, that we can create very nice field collection apps running in the browser.

Geotagging photo's is a function of the application, not the unit. All major mobile OS' have apps which will allow you to capture and geotag photo's. If you want to be able to link them to attributes however, you may have to look at getting someone to write a tool for you. The other option as you mentioned, is to just get a GPS enabled camera, which will do it for you, though no attribute capability.

One piece of advice, unless you're a software developer, look at the software which will allow you to do what you want, and buy the device that will run it. If you can't find suitable software, make sure you factor in getting software written into your budget.

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If you are going to use Windows Mobile PDA's, can I recommend using ArcPad to capture and manage your asset data. ArcPad is part of the ESRI GIS software family, but can be used as a standalone system with a desktop application as well as mobile deployment. Using ArcPad makes it easy to capture photos as attributes (no need for a GPS camera) as well as creating custom forms for field data input. All of this functionality is available out-of-the-box with no development experience required. Check out a free 20min trial of the software @ http://www.esri.com/software/arcgis/arcpad/download.html

Hope this helps!!

Hannah Ferrier, Mobile GIS Specialist Maptel Pty.Ltd.

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Thanks Hannah were looking at a real basic system to get people interested at first (arcpad would probably do everything we need and more). I'm just interested in promoting the idea without being to specific to any real software.... if thats possible –  Jamo Aug 30 '10 at 4:46

Here's what I suggest. Don't look at PDAs, look at mobile forms applications. The only time you should have to deal with complex, specific software is if you need precise observations, and if you're doing that look at Trimble or similar hardware, which will cost you around $10,000.

Try this:

Seriously, with a smartphone you get an app that is easy to use, has a fantastic camera, and manages the data integration for you. No downloading from the device needed, just field capture, upload, and either API or mass download in the office.

Another thing about good apps is that they don't require training. They just work.

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have a look at geosetter http://www.geosetter.de/en/

and do an online presentation to your group of geolocated photos on a track in Google Earth, with Warwick as the subject.

I can use two setups with geosetter, my old Fujifilm camera with an older Garmin GPS12, or my Windows phone (HTC) which has an inbuilt GPS and 5 megapixel camera. Using the winphone ensures that the timestamp on the gps and phone are exactly the same.

One issue I haven't bothered to fix, is that (especially the Garmin12) track points are only recorded when you move, if you stop and take a couple of photos and stand still for a few minutes, the results might not be as good as you hoped. Worse still is if you leave the Garmin on the dash of the car and only take the camera when you for a walk.

Geosetter is a bit of fiddle for newbie because there is no help.

cheers

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GPS-enabled PDA is the right way forward I am sure, specially for any kind of survey and field asset management. Nowadays you get the rugged GPS handhelds at a much low cost with the newer varieties like SXtreo in the market. The big advantage is that you can easily capture the GPS coordinates on the go while you are capturing the details of the field asset in to the handheld device. You don't have to carry pen and paper, and a separate GPS device. You can also create forms into the PDA using the free tool SXsurvey to enable you capture the field survey data of the assets you are surveying. This method costs much less than any other method currently in use.

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