Wednesday, May 13, 2015

GPS

I remember when GPS was only available in the 10lb size that fit in a backpack. I also remember when GPS was all but useless without post-processing for differential correction. How times have changed.  We all take for granted now that GPS will be in the smartphones that have become our lifeline, but even that is relatively new. When we first started researching phones to create our GeoJot+ app, not all cellphones were smartphones and not all smartphones had GPS chips. However, we knew a change was coming. By September 11. 2012, all wireless service providers in the US were going to be required to supply precise location information for 9-1-1 calls.

So most people have taken for granted that their smartphones have GPS for the last couple of years. And the more people used it, the more it became a selling point for phones and the more it was refined. Many cell phones now, such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 or the iPhone6 have both GPS and A-GPS. A-GPS (Assisted GPS) uses cell phone towers is often used when you first start up your GPS because it has faster fix times. It also may work better inside buildings or in urban canyons (when there are a lot of tall building). GPS is a satellite-based navigation system developed by the US government. This GPS option on a cell phone uses the satellite signals and does not need cell phone towers. While it tends to use more battery power, it also tends to yield more accurate locations outside of urban areas.

In the past few years, additional satellite system have become available to general public. Many phones can now use GLONASS satellites. GLONASS is similar to GPS but is operated by the Russian Government. Recently some phones have even started picking up satellites from the Chinese satellite system that is currently being refined.


3-5 meter accuracy is now the standard for any hardware that boasts GPS capabilities. And the more sophisticated standalone GPS units such as those from Juniper and Trimble can now offer < 1 meter accuracy in real time without post-processing and centimeter accuracy post processed. It makes you wonder … what’s next? Cost does vary with accuracy which also should make you wonder, what accuracy do I really need for my project?

Friday, May 8, 2015

A needle in a haystack – finding THAT photo

000001.jpg or 2014_123456. Not all that helpful when you have thousands of photos is it? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to use the Search function in the Windows library to find the exact photo or group of photos you are looking for? Depending on how you collect your data, you can.

Windows has a group of 6 pieces of data that can be stored in a photo and then found using the search functionality in Windows library. Those items are Title, Subject, Description, Comments, Author, Copyright.

All data collected using the GeoJot+ app is automatically written to the EXIF header of each photo you collect. Usually when you create a form in GeoJot+, you name each field in your form. However, the app also allows you select those Windows searchable fields and drop those into your form. After processing your data through the accompanying GeoJot+ desktop app, you will be able to search your entire photo archive using Windows search. So you could easily find all the photos collected by Susan or all the photos associated with the light pole inventory without having to open a single file. 

And even the data that is not windows searchable is still embedded in the EXIF header of each photo you collect. That means even after your archive your data, the photo and the data can never be separated. Years from now if you have the photo, you have everything. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What is in a picture?

When people want to describe something, an outdoor asset for example, there are often a few key components they need in order to fully document that asset.
  1. Where is it? A problem easily solved with GPS which is built into just about everything these days.
  2. What does it look like? Take a photo! A smartphone camera usually does the trick, but sometimes people still need the optical zoom provided by a DSLR camera. A DSLR can be coupled with a standalone GPS. 
  3. Other ancillary data – what is the condition? Does it have a unique ID? Who owns it? There could be 5 or 50 or more pieces of data that people need to describe the asset. 
Taking a picture and collecting data provides photographic evidence at a specific place and time. This is useful for an asset inventory, a site survey, basic field work, compliance documentation, or proof of performance. The output can be displayed a photo map, visually representing the data in a way that is easy for anyone to understand. It can also be imported into a GIS and used with other data layers for analysis or archived in a backend database. 


GeoJot+ allows you to get the most out of your existing hardware – the field data collection app runs on any Apple & Android smartphones or tablets, and handheld GPS units with Windows Mobile. Data can automatically be uploaded to the cloud and then pulled down to the final resting place of your choice. There processes the data through the accompanying GeoJot+ desktop app creating all the desired output. A picture is worth a thousand words, especially when it is a geotagged photo and contains other descriptive data in the EXIF header of the photo itself.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Problems with iOS 8.3

Just a quick note, GeoJot+ users, please DO NOT upgrade to iOS 8.3. We are experiencing a couple of issues with the camera roll because of an Apple bug in the new operating system. We are working with them now to get it resolved. In addition, we know that Bad Elf is has reported a GPS bug with iOS 8.3 and has also asked their customers not to upgrade as they work with Apple to get that bug resolved. Bottom line, don't upgrade your iOS operating system yet. Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Site Inspections – photographic evidence

Most recently we have had conversations with users about their site inspection workflows. As a software development company, we spend much of our time sitting in an office working at a computer. Even if I can’t go out in the field with a customer, it is enlightening to hear about their realities – what forms they are carrying into the field, what is a part of the daily process and what kind of surprises do they regularly handle on-site.


Before this customer started using GeoJot+ Core (GPS-Photo Link+), their organization’s process was tedious. Every time they conducted an inspection, they had to create a report. They require geotagged photos for many aspects of the reports and before they found our products, they had to manually grab and manipulate each photo captured in the field to include it in the site inspection reports. Some site inspections required 10 photos, some required 100 or more. The customer estimated that his time savings is exponential on a log scale dependent on the number of photos he has. When you get the settings getting photos ready for reports using GeoJot+ Core it takes a minutes instead of hours for each report. They have thousands of inspectors across the country.

Then we talked about the parts of the process where they still use pen and paper, and why that is the case. Sometimes it is because of fears that technology will fail, although there are also times when field books are lost or ruined. With a willing partner, we can investigate ways to streamline the process with safeguards against losing data. We were excited to hear that our desktop product was providing him exponential time savings, now we are trying to see if there is lesser known functionality of our product that could offer some additional savings. We are also looking to see how much more of the field data can be collected digitally using GeoJot+ app instead of being written in field books or field forms and then transcribed. We will let you know that goes …….

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The importance of workflow analysis

So often in business, we put our heads down and just plow through our tasks. While it is always good to work hard, sometimes we need to remember to allot time to find ways to work smarter. For those of us who have been at our current jobs for a longer period of time, this can become even more evident. 

We all need to budget time at least once a year to analyze our current workflows. People involved change, requirements subtly change, and technology certainly changes over time. Even if our long lists of daily responsibilities seem daunting, we need to take a step back from how we are doing things, get a little perspective and fresh eyes to see if there is a better way.

Lately at GeoSpatial Experts we have been talking to some of our larger customers about their workflows so that we can better understand their realities. We are learning more about field protocol, back office work and how the data is finally used in the boardroom or with their customer. We are acting as their fresh set of eyes to see if there are more efficient ways to use GeoJot+ for field data collection and reporting. Perhaps we have functionality they haven't discovered yet, maybe there are complementary products we know about that might make their expanded workflow easier or hardware that might be more effective. There might even be functionality we can add to our products that would make life easier for many of our customers.


Breaking away from our daily grind to help our customers break out of theirs has been a great experience for everyone – I highly recommend it. 

Best smartphones cameras 2015

GeoJot+ is photo-based field data collection, so camera quality is a concern for many of our customers. Below are links to 2 different articles about the best smartphone cameras this year.


Both articles recognize the iPhone6 plus and Samsung Galaxy. These (or their recent predecessors) are the most common cameras we see among our customers. One of the articles also talks about the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-CM1.


I like the idea of this because some of our customers have more detailed requirements for their photos, however, I am not sure this meets those requirements. I initially assumed that the Lumix would have optical zoom but it doesn’t. If our customers have specific camera requirements it is usually around zoom so this may not be a better fit. These camera phones seem pretty rare, has anyone out there used one? If so, what did you think?