Mobile mapping devices are an example of the ongoing miniaturization of equipment allowed by chip technology and electronics, resulting in small, handy, portable, and precise GPS tools that may be used alongside survey instruments. Their numerous advantageous qualities may pave the path to success through acceptance by a continuously increasing GIS market. The author discusses the properties of Mobile Mapping Devices and their use.
Geo-ICT professionals have created several advanced methods for storing, retrieving, analyzing, and publishing massive volumes of geo-information via the Web over time. This journal has frequently published articles on advances in GIS technology. As a land surveyor, reading all of these stories can bring up strange thoughts.
Nice technology, one thinks, but what about the data? Who should be in charge of collecting it all? Which machines are capable of producing such massive amounts of data? Is a GIS user unconcerned about the quality of the data he or she utilizes or the quality of the geo-information that is finally produced?
GIS users are beginning to notice that the demand for accurate, detailed, and timely geo-data is growing in tandem with the increased usage of GIS in all areas of the economy. The surveying world understands the needs of the GIS user and is constantly looking for new methods to serve them with cutting-edge technology. The mobile mapper is one result of all of this.
From Two Domains
A mobile mapper is essentially a portable handheld device that combines GPS, GIS, geo-database, and mapping. This new technique can be tackled from either the surveying/navigation or the GIS domains. GIS businesses supply software – ESRI calls their mobile mapping and GIS – that provides the mobile mapper with a full set of GIS capabilities. Map navigation (zoom/pan, center on the current GPS position), geometric computations such as distances, areas, and bearings, display, editing, updating, and collecting GPS measurements, saving and mapping GPS measurements, and adding attribute values to collected point, line, and area data are all part of this.
The software offered here is not usually a complete mobile GIS but is designed to communicate with GIS packages either by transferring field recordings to the GIS system in the office or by downloading existing maps to the mobile mapper. The marriage of these two domain approaches in one handheld device provides both professional and casual field surveyors with an ultimately flexible solution. More importantly, it enables any mobile workforce to collect accurate positioning data and the characteristics of fixed assets, which can then be used to manage those assets.
Like mobile phones, Mobile Mapping Devices have many beneficial features that potentially pave the way to great success, in particular in the still rapidly expanding GIS market. A mobile mapper enables a user to carry into the field an old terrain situation in need of updating, or a digital basemap on top of which certain features such as street furniture have to be mapped as a separate database. To the recorded features of points, lines or polygons, user-definable attributes can be assigned as appropriate to the mapping task in hand.
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A coding library can be predefined and downloaded prior to going into the field. The user interface is made such that anyone who can operate a mobile phone can operate a mobile mapper. Computer-literate layman can learn to operate the system in less than a day. The internal storage capacity is usually expressed in Gigabytes. This huge storage capability, together with convenient communication ports, enables (down)-loading and provides instantaneous access to layers of topographic maps, large-scale base maps, aerial photos, high-resolution satellite imagery and land-ownership boundaries.
Further, because of the complete digital storage of data and direct registration of the position in coordinates in any preferred coordinate system, either predefined or user-defined further processing can be done without overmuch human interaction, resulting in a high ratio of automation.
Built for Survival
The construction of the device is based on chip technology and electronics; unlike in total stations, there are no mechanical or optical parts, resulting in very favorable features, including portability, lightweight (typically less than 1kg, or about 500g), small size, and handiness. Holding in the hands such a tiny instrument one wonders how something so small can possibly accommodate so many facilities! From the surveyor’s perspective, the heart of a mobile mapper is GPS.
GPS is immune to concerns such as darkness and rough weather and allows a person working solo to do the job. Depending on the measuring mode, a high order of precision can be achieved. From a GIS-user perspective, quick transfer to a GIS, by cable or Bluetooth, in a common data file format, is a valuable property.
When purchasing a mobile mapper it is important to check such things as whether the device will survive:
- tumbling out of the surveyor’s hands towards a crash encounter with paved ground
- storage in a car standing the whole day in the desert sun or polar cold
- plunging into a ditch full of water
- a life-long stay in a tropical rainforest.
Further issues concern whether the display is full-colour and readable in daylight, whether the battery can be charged from a vehicle or replaced in the field, and if it can last a whole working day.
Communication among experts necessitates the use of appropriate terminology to identify equipment and define techniques. As a result, the introduction of new items and tools is frequently associated with the use of novel terminology. The selection of a correct phrase is one challenge, but a major one is that firms may create the same technology at the same time while using different terms. Two separate gadgets, on the other hand, may be given the same name. This is true of the term “mobile mapper.” In European countries, the prefix mobile is a usage-driven phrase adopted in reference to mobile phones: small, portable gadgets that can be taken around easily.
In the US, where such phones are referred to not as ‘mobile’ but as ‘cellular’ (a technology-driven term referring to the type of network necessary for wireless communication), the word ‘mobile’ refers to the mobility of a platform carrying surveying equipment. More particularly, it implies a van equipped with GPS, IMU, digital stereo cameras and laser scanners and able to determine real-time or, after post-processing, 3D position of features of interest found on and along the route. Sometimes a manufacturer may even be so happy with the choice of a term that he decides to register the name as a trademark (TM), as Thales did with the MobileMapper.