Online GIS and Mobile Applications Capture Reliable Data In the Field

When the City of Centennial, Colorado, partnered with CH2M in 2008 for the management of its public works services ranging from snow removal to traffic engineering to fiber optic cable, it demonstrated the efficiencies found in a successful public-private partnership.

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Capture Reliable Data in the Field

By Stacey Hartmann

When the City of Centennial, Colorado, partnered with CH2M in 2008 for the management of its public works services ranging from snow removal to traffic engineering to fiber optic cable, it demonstrated the efficiencies found in a successful public-private partnership.

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As part of its goal of being a model of small government, the city of 107,000 residents put a premium on streamlined processes and technology tools. This led John Londo, senior geographic information system (GIS) specialist with CH2M, to start replacing the city’s paper and PDF infrastructure maps with online GIS and mobile applications to capture reliable data in the field.

With an interest in better tools for location accuracy and data verification in GIS management, Londo welcomed the opportunity to test centimeter-level mapping accuracy with a new product: Trimble Catalyst.

Trimble Catalyst is a subscription-based software-defined Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receiver for Android devices, which Londo tested with Esri’s Collector for ArcGIS, an application for collecting data in the field.

Commercially available since July, Trimble Catalyst integrates with a wide range of applications and provides a dual-frequency, multi-constellation receiver picking up signals from the plug-and-play Trimble DA1 digital antenna. The antenna’s small size makes it easy to store and use on demand, while the Trimble Catalyst subscription gives users the flexibility to choose the level of accuracy to suit their application needs from meter level to centimeters.

“The DA1 antenna is the piece that plugs into your phone or tablet and allows you to have that high accuracy,” Londo said.

City of Centennial Test

A city that can quickly and accurately locate its utilities and infrastructure is better able to respond to any issue that might arise, which was a big factor in Londo’s decision to explore his options for upgrading technology. As part of an early adopter program for Trimble Catalyst and Collector for ArcGIS, Londo took the system for a test drive at Centennial’s crown jewel, Centennial Center Park, which was designed to provide year-round family friendly enjoyment with a playground, splash pad, amphitheater, plaza and two shelters, all equipped with electricity.

Using Trimble Catalyst on an Android tablet connected to the Catalyst DA1 antenna on a pole, Londo collected about 50 data points for streetlights, hardscaping, electric junction boxes, and other public works assets across the 11-acre park. Those data points were added to Collector for ArcGIS field software, a collaborative solution for the creation of maps, scenes, layers, analytics and data.

“It’s a really fun product to use,” Londo said of Catalyst and Collector. “The big thing is how it does the processing on the fly so you aren’t having to go back to the office, run through additional software, do the corrections, and push the data into ArcGIS.”

The ability to see and prove accuracy in the field through reference data adds efficiency to the process, Londo said.

“I haven’t been able to do that with a GeoXH, or a handheld unit,” he said. “That was the big part I noticed.”

New Era of GIS Technology

Comprehensive digital site maps are a valuable tool in the utility world as it faces a challenging operating environment of aging infrastructure, weather events and increasingly high customer expectations, making accurate and up-to-date mapping of systems and assets more critical than ever.

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In the past, users needed specialized hardware solutions or handheld receivers for their own devices to pinpoint locations rather than settle for the typical location-enabled five meters of accuracy.

Today, the increasing processing power of smartphones is opening the door to development of products such as Catalyst, which uses software to replicate the work of a dedicated hardware receiver.

The ability to gather and verify positions quickly on personal smartphones is feeding Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) activity in the field, with more mapping and geographic information system professionals in the utility space relying on personal mobile devices for information gathering.

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Now, combining Trimble Catalyst with Esri’s Collector for ArcGIS or cloud-based field collection app Trimble TerraFlex, users can easily collect positions using their smartphones and gain the traceable documentation for their location information.

“If it was just Catalyst by itself, I’d say it’s a definite cost saving and it’s easy to use,” Londo said, “but as an added bonus, it also works flawlessly with the Collector for ArcGIS app. The interaction of the two together is the biggest selling point.”

In addition, developers of apps that don’t come ready built to handle position metadata from Trimble GNSS technology can use the Trimble Catalyst Software Development Kit (SDK) to integrate and gain all the position benefits in their workflows.

Real-time Efficiencies

Londo estimates the solution of Trimble Catalyst and Collector for ArcGIS saves about two hours of processing time after a day of collecting data. Because the system displays reliable accuracy estimates while in the field, it is easy to make sure features aren’t missed that would force a return to the site.

“In the past, you would go and shoot a bunch of stuff and think, yes, that looked good, but what you were seeing were the points on a blank screen with no reference data,” Londo said. “This sometimes led to discovering assets that weren’t correctly shot in the field. Now, while we’re out there, we can see everything we need to verify data quality on-the-fly, and can say, ‘ok, we missed this manhole cover there or this valve there.’”

Since trying Trimble Catalyst with Collector for ArcGIS, Londo has used the system a few times to verify fiber optic cable and electrical boxes, and plans to use it more frequently in water and wastewater settings as he manages GIS for other projects in New Mexico, Florida and Georgia.

“With utilities, water and wastewater, assets are constantly getting buried in the sand or weeds, so Catalyst would have a broad application, and you can’t get higher accuracy for a better price,” Londo said UP


Stacey Hartmann is a freelance writer covering the geospatial industry.

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