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Taking GIS on the Road

Taking GIS directly into the field—whether it's an actual one and the application is crop monitoring or a city street where data on fire hydrants is being collected—has added an immediacy in both the temporal and spatial aspects of GIS that was not possible before.

With mobile GIS, ground truthing is quite literally possible. Feature location and attribute data can be verified, augmented, and immediately updated. Making GIS data updates in real or near real time has tremendous benefits for public safety and other application areas in which the difference been success and failure is measured in seconds and minutes. The integration of GIS with consumer devices, such as cell phones, has spawned a whole new industry—location-based services (LBS).

Advances in four key areas have made mobile GIS possible. GIS software has been tailored to the needs of the field environment. Software development has gone hand-in-hand with the engineering of lightweight, reliable, and affordable computing devices. Although power, processor speed, and storage space considerations still impact the development and use of handheld and other portable devices, the availability and adoption of these devices are widespread.

Along with improvements in handheld computers, greater accuracy and the reduced cost of GPS units have made significant contributions to the development of mobile GIS. Coupled with performance gains, the tight integration of GPS with GIS has streamlined the acquisition and processing of coordinate data. Units that combine handheld computers with GPS often prove an excellent choice for mobile GIS applications and are becoming common. Finally, wireless communication not only provides data access and updates in the field but also allows direct access to resources on the Internet.

GIS Here, There, Everywhere

By itself, mobile GIS is tremendously useful but Esri's implementation, which integrates mobile GIS with desktop and Internet GIS, is far more powerful. Not only can ArcPad communicate with other GIS applications but it also leverages GIS data investments by directly using data from desktop or enterprise GIS systems without conversion to a portable format.

ArcPad can act as a client to ArcIMS or to the Geography Network. Wireless data acquisition capability using a TCP/IP connection, such as a wireless local area network, cellular phone, or wireless modem, means users can access data on demand from the field.

For situations in which a persistent network connection is either impractical or undesirable, ArcPad furnishes tools for disconnected editing that export features from a geodatabase to a workspace of shapefiles. [See "Features to Go: Field Deployable GIS" [PDF-692 KB] in the April-June 2003 issue of ArcUser for additional information on disconnected editing.]

Robust tools for data entry and editing come with ArcPad and can be extended through the use of ArcPad Application Builder. This integrated development environment (IDE) for ArcPad streamlines the creation of forms, custom toolbars, tool buttons, and scripts. [See "Creating Custom Tool Buttons for ArcPad" [PDF 1.1 MB] in the October-December 2003 issue of ArcUser.] Support for on-the-fly conversion from geographic GPS input datums to a variety of datums and projections simplifies integrating and GPS data.

With the introduction of the ArcPad StreetMap extension, users have ready-to-use, quality data for the United States with predefined symbology, advanced address matching, geocoding, and routing capabilities. ArcPad StreetMap for the United States streamlines data collection projects by eliminating the time-consuming task of preparing the project-related layers that provide reference background information. ArcPad StreetMap supplies tools that allow a specific area to be easily selected, clipped, and automatically transferred into a handheld device. Users can extract datasets with freely defined boundaries that can closely correspond to the project area, thus minimizing demands on device memory.

In addition to developing ArcPad and ArcPad Application Builder for handheld devices, Esri has created a set of free, downloadable tools that support the Tablet PC for ArcGIS. These tools are built to the design specifications of Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and allow ArcGIS Desktop users to take advantage of pen-based computing, digital ink technology, and enhanced mobility functions.

Not only has GIS moved from the office to the field on a variety of computing devices but its use also continues to expand. Increasingly, GIS applications permeate the information infrastructure. The latest evidence of this is the central but low profile role GIS is playing in the development of LBS for businesses and consumers. Esri's ArcLocation solutions help mobile users communicate and use geographic information with wireless technology. Mobile operators and application developers can use these services and tools to create or enhance location-based service applications.

Additional Support for Mobile GIS

Esri has joined with Trimble, a leading innovator of GPS technology, in promoting mobile GIS use through a grant program. Through the Esri and Trimble Mobile Government Grant Program, software, hardware, and training grants totaling $140,000 have been awarded to 10 state and local governments within the United States. Grant recipients were selected from a wide range of disciplines including health, code enforcement, public safety, planning, public works, and parks and recreation.

The 10 recipients will develop model projects that demonstrate how mobile government applications that incorporate GIS and GPS applications can benefit local governments. Beginning in May 2004, these applications will be added to the public domain mobile GIS applications already available at no cost from the Public Domain Templates for ArcPad Web site at

Public domain ArcPad templates are designed for specific industry applications. They provide a starting point for developing custom ArcPad projects and make it easy to quickly benefit from ArcPad. Templates currently available include a public safety applet that provides tools for mapping a fire perimeter using a GPS system, stylus, or mouse; an accident data collection applet; a smallpox surveillance form compliant with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards, a patient registration applet, and a village mapping and dengue fever survey application that conforms to World Health Organization health monitoring forms. The Public Domain Templates for ArcPad Web page also includes links to video clips and articles that demonstrate how government agencies have used ArcPad, grant programs, and a discussion forum.

Additional information on developing an ArcPad application can be found at The Esri Virtual Campus also offers two workshops, Working with ArcPad and Customizing ArcPad. Sample scripts, forms, applications, and wizards for ArcPad are available at no charge from the Esri ArcScripts Web site.

In This Issue

The articles in this special section highlight several different aspects of mobile GIS. Mobile GIS applications typically use GPS. With so many GPS receivers now available in various price ranges, what capabilities and features do GIS users need? One article discusses what GIS users should consider when purchasing a GPS unit for GIS purposes.

As part of a program to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the city of Oakland, California, combined high- and low-tech approaches to complete a survey 835 miles of the city's streets. Field-workers were dispatched on bicycles equipped with handheld devices. They rapidly recorded and characterized 20,000 curb ramps throughout the city. Using this approach, rather than a more traditional pen and paper capture of the data, saved time and eliminated laborious data input.

A tutorial article in this section illustrates the many ways ArcPad can be customized for specific projects. The demonstration application contains tools and forms for inventorying infrastructure items such as signs, culverts, and bridges. The script and applet written for this demonstration (and included in the sample dataset) provide actual examples showing how these modifications are incorporated into ArcPad.

These articles show the many ways that mobile GIS can not only be integrated into the existing work flow but also expand the capabilities and value of an enterprise GIS. Mobile GIS provides another example of how GIS users can solve problems, improve processes, realize cost savings, or perform tasks that would not be possible without GIS.

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