Home Articles Contributions of Mobile Computing in Real Time GIS Data Collection and Analysis

Contributions of Mobile Computing in Real Time GIS Data Collection and Analysis

Syed Masiur Rahman
City & Regional Planning Department
King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals (KFUPM)
P.O. Box 713, Dhahran 31261, Saudi Arabia
Tel: +966 -0501928296
E-mail: [email protected]

Quazi Abidur Rahman
Department of Information and Computer Science
King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals (KFUPM)
E-mail: [email protected]

Mobile computing gives the flexibility to access a GIS time and location independently, not like the stand-alone and wired GIS. The recent development in GIS data collection is mainly served by the development of mobile computing technology. It came into being as a significant contribution of advancement of hardware and wireless communication. It enables us to get rid of time and space dependency. Now, professionals can access and update information at anytime and at anywhere even without physical network connections. There is a clear shift in the field of data collection and analysis from the offline strategy to the real time strategy. Mobile computing tools help in collecting and analyzing real time digital data. It is contributing in the acquisition and analysis of reliable data through instant validation and digital applications that can prevent attribute discrepancy and entry errors, and offers direct download of support data into a useable form at the site.

The paper is divided into two main parts. First part introduces GIS, real time GIS, mobile computing and its contributions. Second part investigates the interrelationships between GIS data collection, analysis, and mobile computing. This part also illustrates mobile GIS along with commercial examples. Finally, Ubiquitous computing is discussed as the future of mobile computing.

GIS and Mobile Computing: Background

Geographical Information System (GIS)
DoE [8] defined GIS as “a system for capturing, storing, checking, manipulating, analyzing and displaying data which are spatially referenced to the Earth”. In fact, there is no rigid consensus on the definition of GIS but many of the prevailing definitions have common features, namely that GIS deals with geographical information and considers geographical element as more important than the attribute element. In GIS, the representation of reality comprises of a series of geographical features defined according to locational and non-locational (attribute) data element [19]. Maguire [19] finds out three distinct but overlapping views based on the various ideas about GIS, namely the map, database and spatial analysis views. The map view originated in the work of McHarg [21] focuses on cartographic aspects of GIS such as map processing or display systems. The supporter of database view emphasizes on the importance of a well-designed and implemented database [11]. The spatial analysis view focuses on analysis and modelling which can be regarded as a spatial information science rather than a technology [Error! Reference source not found.]. In an institutional perspective, GIS possesses four basic elements, which are computer hardware and software, data and live-ware [19].

Although GIS can be applied to many types of problem, Rhind [24] develops a general classification of the types of generic queries (Table 1).
Table 1: Basic queries, which can be explored using GIS [24]

Location What is at……..?
Condition Where is it……..?
Trend What has changed…….?
Routing Which is the best way……?
Pattern What is the pattern……..?
Modelling What if……..?

Real Time GIS
From temporality point of view, information can be classified as static and dynamic. Generally, real world phenomena are dynamic, and the objects such as cartographic maps, roads, facilities, utilities, etc are static, as they may not change within a short period of time [3] On the other hand, the information of geospatial objects that change in a short period of time is termed as dynamic [22]. One can consider the following aspects of spatial information based on his working domain [15]

  • Geometrical changes of features over time (such as urban expansion)
  • Positional changes of features over time (such as car movement)
  • Change of features attribute over time (such as traffic volume)
  • Any combination of the above changes

According to the length of duration of time, one can divide dynamic information as real time data, near real time data and time stamped data [12]. By definition, real time data are collected and imported to GIS as soon as an event occurs and real time GIS refers to capability of management, visualization and analysis of graphical and attribute information whenever they input to GIS [22]. Due to the limitations in instantly updating, visualizing and analyzing data to be used in GIS, phrase near real time is more justifiable. Time stamped data represents a time within it in some ways such as an attribute. Some aspects of time that can be considered regarding an event are as follows [23,29]:

  • When an event occurred in real world (valid time)
  • Occurrence duration of an event
  • When information about an event imported to GIS
  • When those data retrieved and manipulated (transaction time)

Mobile Computing
Mobile computing is the use of computing devices at some distance from the normal, fixed workplace that enables the mobile worker to create, access, process, store, and communicate information without being constrained to a single location [30]. It can be viewed as a combination of three important and related properties: computation, communication and mobility. Computation includes the computing devices at either end of the network; communication systems include the different wireless and wired networks that link the computing devices; and mobility is an aspect of user behavior [18]. The core of mobile computing is based on the need to deliver intelligence to the field to improve productivity and provide a competitive edge in the marketplace [16].

“Mobile computing” is used to describe the use of computing devices, which usually interact in some fashion with a central information system while away from the normal, fixed workplace [30]. This technology made possible the interaction of an organization’s fixed information system with the mobile workers by enabling them to create, access, process, store and communicate information without being constrained to a single location. The versatility of mobile computing is accomplished with the help of computer hardware; system and applications software; and some form of communications medium. Powerful mobile solutions have recently become possible because of the availability of (a) extremely powerful and small computing devices; (b) specialized software; and (c) improved telecommunications [27]. The real power of mobile computing becomes apparent when mobile hardware, software, and communications are optimally configured and used to accomplish a specified mobile task [30].

The potential of GIS to move from the desktop into the field [5], here the case of mobile computing depends on three factors. These are (1) the solution to the thin/fat client issue for GIS (2) the compression and integration of computer hardware and GIS software and (3) the design of effective user interfaces for these systems [7].

Contributions of Mobile Computing
The typical contributions associated with mobile computing can be summarized as follows based on the research of Zimmerman [30]:

  • Improved Information Accessibility- The mobile computer enables quick and efficient information retrieval from the central information system and makes fixed or ad hoc queries of corporate databases, which enable employees to get the information, needed to complete the job. Due to the coherent integration, information available to a mobile user from the central information system reflects current information from other mobile users as well.
  • Increased Operational Efficiency- Mobile computing enables the computing power and information contained within the fixed information system to be adhered around the optimum workflow of a mobile worker, instead of altering his workflow. It can improve efficiency by saving time, reducing waste, cutting cycle times, reducing rework, enabling business process reengineering, improving accuracy, decreasing time spent on customer complaints and reducing unnecessary travel [9].
  • Increased Management Effectiveness- Mobile computing technology can improve management effectiveness by making the most current and accurate information available to both the mobile worker and the users of the fixed information system with which the mobile worker communicates.
  • Mobile Computing is Versatile- The variety of hardware, software, and communications systems available contributes to the versatility of mobile computing. On the other hand, anyone familiar with the use of a pen and paper can easily be trained to use most mobile computers [17].
  • Strategic Nature of Mobile Computing- Capitalizing on the strategic characteristics by incorporating mobile computing technology into the fixed organizational information system will strengthen the strategic nature of the overall information system.

GIS Data Collection, Analysis, and Mobile Computing
Mainframe computers perform as analytical engines for problem solving with the help of algorithmic approach. Personal computers and workstations came in the scenario to replace mainframe systems, which provides personal interaction with computer-based processes. Later on, the hooking of the systems into a network raised an era of distributing computing and client-server model. The existing form of mobile computing in the field of GIS came into being with the subsequent contributions of large mainframe computers, smaller desktop computers and workstations, and the computer networks and the Internet towards cartography [7].

Before the introduction of mobile access to GIS data and mobile computing, the professionals were supposed to take large paper drawings, which are familiar and easy to navigate, and there is nothing to turn on or boot up. On the other hand, they are costly to print, cumbersome to carry, and often slightly out-of-date. Usually, these professionals get to the job site only to realize they do not have all the required drawings and they are forced to return without all the information at hand.

Nowadays, even the ordinary people like the GIS experts tend to access spatial information using wireless equipments. The recent development in mobile devices such as PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), Java-enabled mobile phones, laptop, Bluetooth technology and Internet techniques are contributing a lot in collecting and analyzing GIS data in the field. Mobile computing environment makes feasible for professionals to travel one place to another. Because they can access and update information through wireless connections irrespective of physical locations.

Anyone can get benefited from mobile access and computing to digital drawings and maps especially away from the office. For example, a design engineer who has discussions with construction administrators at job sites, a technician who fixes industrial machines on the shop floor, or a utility manager who takes care of a building or a telecommunications field crew that needs to ensure the correct line connections. Access to GIS data and computing would allow the professionals to leave bulky design drawings at the office, review and interact with the most up-to-date GIS data and even to exchange data between handheld devices and corporate servers.

Mobile GIS
Mobile computing created a new era by providing the ability to bring GIS with the professionals in the field and response interactively with the world around them. Before the era of mobile technologies, the process of field data collection, editing and storing was time consuming and error prone due to the presence of geographic data in the field in the form of paper maps. GIS data usually suffered from irregular updating and inaccuracy, which resulted from manual field editing, deciphering and entering in the GIS database. Nevertheless, the recent development in the field of mobile computing contributed a lot to bring GIS information in the field as digital maps on mobile devices, which provides field access to enterprise geographic information. This enables organizations to add real-time (and near real-time) information to their enterprise database and applications, speeding up analysis, display, and decision making by using up-to-date, more accurate spatial data [31].

The success of a mobile GIS lies on the extent of its emulation of the existing field practices and eliminate repetitive time-consuming tasks. A typical mobile application should help a mobile user to automate their entire workflow and improve their efficiency. A mobile GIS application should also support primary functions such as mapping and navigation, data collection, query, update and transmission, remote data and component access, location determination, coordinate transformations [16]. The fundamental requirement of this application is to ensure the ability of application to work in the same environment as that of a field user.

Mobile GIS is composed of a number of technologies [31].

  • GIS
  • Mobile hardware in the form of lightweight devices and field PCs
  • Global positioning systems (GPSs)
  • Wireless communications for Internet GIS access

Commercial Mobile GIS

Autodesk OnSite
Autodesk brought a solution named Autodesk Onsite, which is comprised of stand-alone mobile mapping and design applications. The users can access large, complex digital drawings and maps with the help of handheld and tablet computers at the field. The solution enables users to review, mark up, and measure GIS or CAD data in the field as well as easily synchronize data between the portable device and a desktop computer. Autodesk OnSite offers an enterprise server that helps organizations with large or diverse mobile workforces—such as utilities, communications companies, and local governments—to extend their enterprise data to the field. Users can remotely access design and mapping data on an organization’s central servers, review it, and mark it up digitally, greatly increasing productivity and helping to ensure data accuracy. In addition, Autodesk OnSite possesses a COM (Component Object Model) compliant API (Application Programming Interface) for building customized enterprise-level applications to meet specific needs. The basic features of Autodesk Onsite are as follows [4]:

  • A streamlined user interface
  • Enhanced markup tools, which include audio and user-definable markup symbols
  • A COM API for building customized mobile applications

A handheld GIS enhances portable touch-screen Windows CE computer with raster image and vector Map display [10]. It possesses user-defined form filling capability and real-time positioning using an optional Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver. ArcPad allows the user to mark features on the map and enter information about them even it can store a freehand sketch. These features can be included in the project database and uploaded into the desktop GIS. Again, users in the field may communicate with the live GIS database back in the office by dialing in to a mapping Web site powered by ArcIMS Internet Map Server technology. ArcPad allows the user to use real time GIS data and compare it to the GIS database directly which provides a deeper sense of reality to the database and opens many new avenues for mobile data collection.

Mobile GIS Data Collection and Analysis at site: EcoLoGGer
Markham and Colville [21] developed the application. The application provides mobile computing in collecting real time GIS data. It is designed to facilitate natural resource sector, specifically for digital wildlife identification guide and observation recording system. The main components of the application are preparation of spatial and non-spatial data for field reference and editing purposes, handling the acquisition and management of spatial and non-spatial data while in the field, and subsequent posting of edits from field acquisition to the original database. In ArcMap, the ArcPad Tools for ArcGIS extension quickly and easily export required field data from a parent GeoDatabase to a mobile device and import all field edits back into the parent GeoDatabase when returning from the field.

Ubiquitous Computing and GIS
Ubiquitous computing was first emphasized by Marc Weiser [28], envisioning a scenario where computational power would be available throughout the physical environment without any physical appearance to the user. Ubiquitous computing is a framework, which enables computers to provide context-aware information assisted by using real world information [26]. Usually, the ubiquitous computing environment possesses numbers of sensor and computing devices. The devices are tiny and portable carried or worn by the users or even invisibly integrated in the environment. As a result, the interface between the devices and human is different. The environment around the users behaves intelligently and tries to recognize the users’ both explicit and implicit context information in the real world.

The distinctive characteristics of services in a ubiquitous computing compared to Internet services are location and surroundings. Due to the omnipresence of resources, Technologies such as GPS [14], Cellular Radio Location Tracking Systems [13] or Bluetooth [6] allow for geographical positioning of computing resources. Since resources can be at any environment technologies, such GIS can allow for determination of resources surroundings. Many new services are enabled solely due to these characteristics of ubiquitous computing resources: location-aware services such as positioning systems or proximity services, and environment -aware services such as smart offices or navigation systems [2].

Clarke [7] finds out three factors, which affect the potential of GIS to move from the desktop to the field to create Ubiquitous GIS. These are the solution of thin/flat client issue for GIS; the compression and integration of computer hardware and GIS software; and the design of effective user interfaces for these systems [7].

Due to the invisibility of computer by getting embedded, incorporated into appliances, vehicles, and system sensors, and as networks have migrated toward wireless connections, the computer has finally removed itself from the user interface paradigm of prior eras and created a new model known as Ubiquitous Computing [7]. Clarke [7] demonstrated a prototype by emphasizing the extraordinary demands that will be placed upon the human-computer interface of the resultant wearable GIS. He discusses the impact high mobility computing will have on cartography focusing on wearable computing as a part of the field-computing project Battuta ). In general, wearable computers provide two cartographic advantages for GIS users. The system make available the cartographic information in real time during map use to the user. The placement of this information into the vision field is termed as a cartographic form of augmented reality. The system can exploit the benefits of distributed systems to retrieve map and image data for display based on the location of the user, which is the most powerful form of context awareness for ubiquitous computing.

An alternative to conventional mobile devices such as PDA is the wearable computer, whose most distinguishing feature is that it can be used while moving around [25]. Wearable computers are designed to be used at any time with the minimum amount of cost or distraction from the wearer’s primary task, i.e., work or recreation [16].

Mobile computing in GIS is mainly concerned with the ways to provide mobility. It can be achieved by self-contained GIS capability or by using telecommunication to access the database, obviously hinges upon how much memory can be stored on mobile devices. For both the cases, the amount of memory can be significant. The limitations of self-contained GIS solutions are heavier mobile systems, limited query capability and lack of timeliness. On the other hand, mobility can be ensured by building relatively little database strength into the mobile client along with a high bandwidth mobile cellular or other communications link with a network. In general, it is a challenging task to connect network elements by radio waves for transferring and storing GIS data on wireless Local Area Network (LAN) due to spatial data capacity and transfer rate. Software solutions to these problems are coming into being. It is expected that the bandwidth communications problem will be solved in hardware within the near future.


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