maanantai 31. maaliskuuta 2014

Professor Alfred Colpaert: Smartphones, instruments for geographical research

Mobile phones are part of everyday life, but the new generation of so called smart phones has changed our life even more. They have changed our social life, our way of thinking about privacy, and put us in real time contact with family and friends via applications as Twitter and Facebook.

Developed from the basic GSM telephone, the smart phone has integrated high accuracy positioning using GPS and GLONASS navigation satellites, high definition digital imagery and video, and other integrated sensors like a digital compass, acceleration, temperature and sound level detectors. For most people these are “embedded” features, used by applications, like car navigation, display and sound control, but can be used actively to measure and document one’s surroundings.

Therefore, for geographers, and others interested in spatial research, these devices can be used for research, providing accurate position, georeferenced images, cloud database connection, and possibly links with other measurement instruments through Bluetooth connections.

Not so long ago we would take digital images in the field and obtain the GPS coordinates with a hand held GPS device. To combine images and spatial data was done afterwards, introducing error and confusion in our data. Now the actual position is collected by the smart phone and when a picture is taken the position is stored in the image information field, and can be retrieved later without error. Using map server applications like ArcMap online we can create map databases, which can be used in the field, for example to go to certain test areas. If there is no mobile network available most navigational functions are still operating and the phone can be used as a mapping device.

Apart from smart phones, these functions are also present in most tablets, and these having a larger screen, give many opportunities for mapping features in the field, making field notes and filling in forms, and send the data to our cloud service, so data will not get lost. The advantage of using `mobile devices and cloud services reduces the risk of data loss to a minimum, as there are no paper forms or USB sticks to get lost. The only thing to remember is to update the server if not in real time at least once a day.

Even when you are not actually working in the field, but in libraries, or archives, a mobile smart devices can be of great help, it replaces the old cumbersome cameras we used to take pictures of documents and maps, it can be used as a voice recorder and of course you always know when you recorded and where.


Photograph of Hakaniementori and the spatial information

Aerial images and topographical maps on Lumia 920  (Maastokartat application)

GOPS data on Lumia 920 (GPSCalculator)