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1m Positional Accuracy in Mappt using Bad Elf GNSS Surveyor

Bad Elf GNSS Surveyor & Mappt Mobile GIS

Measuring 60x100mm the Bad Elf GNSS Surveyor can provide 1m accuracy

Measuring 60x100mm the Bad Elf GNSS Surveyor can provide 1m accuracy

Thanks to the helpful folks at Bad Elf, we recently got our hands on the Bad Elf Surveyor Bluetooth GNSS* for testing with Mappt. Combining Mappt with an external source of positional information delivers higher  accuracy than using the on-board GNSS for mobile phones and tablets. It also reduces battery consumption and CPU load on your mobile device.

Vendors like Bad Elf also provide applications offering enhanced functionality for data logging, device configuration, and data QC. Using external GNSS sources makes determining your position less “black box” and more hands-on when it comes to resolving your location and understanding the level of accuracy provided.
Compact and Compatible
Paring the Bad Elf GNSS with Mappt follows the same procedure we’ve detailed in a previous blog. The compact design (100x 60x20mm) and long lasting battery make the Bad Elf a handy field companion for mobile mapping and data collection. With a small LCD screen yielding important GNSS information, the Bad Elf keeps you well aware of the positional information available to you.

GNSS information available from the Bad Elf's compact 35x25mm LCD screen

GNSS information available from the Bad Elf’s compact 35x25mm LCD screen

Increased Accuracy
When either mapping or collecting data in the field, increased positional accuracy is always a plus. Often it’s necessary to revisit the field to account for seasonal changes (in the case of environmental sciences) or for relocating benchmarks or critical infrastructure such as utilities. The Bad Elf Surveyor offers up to 1m accuracy, an improvement over the 3-5m accuracy achievable with tablets and mobile phones.

 

How does it do that?
The Bad Elf Surveyor uses information from three satellite constellations; GPS, GLONASS, and QZSS. Thus from wherever you are globally, there’s an increased probability that you will have the required four satellites to resolve your position. Many devices derive location from a single satellite constellation thus limiting the amount of satellites available to them. The Bad Elf Surveyor also implements SBAS, Satellite Based Augmentation System, to gain positions within 1m. Serving as an augmentation to Global Navigation Satellite Systems, it works by collecting raw positioning data from regional Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS), computing error corrections, and sharing these corrections to users via a geostationary communications satellite. While southern hemisphere regions don’t have their own SBAS, Australia is currently implementing its own SBAS test-bed to be operational by January 2019.
Alongside SBAS, the Bad Elf Surveyor also implements PPP, Precise Point Positioning, which removes GNSS system errors providing a high level of position accuracy from a single receiver. This solution depends on GNSS satellite clock and orbit corrections. These corrections are delivered to the receiver via satellite to provide positioning accurate to within several deicmetres.

 

Mobile Device GPS Behavior Versus Dedicated GPS Units
Mobile device GNSS chipsets have been designed to compliment an integrated system (your tablet/phone) delivering a wide variety of applications. Just count the number of apps you’ve downloaded from the app store. Can you imagine carrying a separate component for each of these?  These mobile applications are optimized to reduce load on the system by reducing battery consumption and processor load. The optimisation for mobile GPS chipsets puts limiting battery usage at the top of the list with time-to-fix location second and positional accuracy third. Dedicated GNSS devices like Bad Elf devices flip this priority on it’s head, placing positional accuracy first followed by time-to-fix and lastly the reduction of battery power. While it may seem like the Bad Elf would quickly run out of juice, it can continuously stream Bluetooth GNSS information for 24 hours. We have yet to see a tablet with that type of battery power!

We took the Bad Elf GNSS Surveyor to our favourite bushland, Signal Hill Park

We took the Bad Elf GNSS Surveyor to our favourite bushland, Signal Hill Park

Mapping Tips n Tricks Learned Using the Bad Elf Surveyor
Creating Polygons in Mappt –  Turn on the enter polygon tool and record each significant point of the polygon (corners and inflection points) as you walk out the perimiter. This ensures that corners/vertices are not shortcut and an accurate shape of the area is recorded.  It’s possible to create polygons in Mappt using the GPS Tracking tool, then walking out the perimeter of the polygon, and finishing off by converting the polyline to a polygon to enclose the area. This method helps when moving continuously (such as when in a vehicle) as you don’t need to stop and record points around the area. However the points associated with your polyline are created at the frequency of GPS updates from your device and you may end up not recording those key corner points!
GNSS Location – Place your external GNSS device in a way that provides a clear view of the sky. Some websites suggest affixing the GNSS face-up to the top of your hat! While you will have great reception, this limits the opportunity to check parameters on the LCD screen. Affixing the GNSS to a surveyors staff gives you both a walking stick and place to mount your tablet. This setup affords both good GNSS reception and makes data entry easier as the tablet is held steady by the staff.  Note:  The team at Bad Elf are currently developing hardware designed with rapid mobile mapping in mind.

The crew at Bad Elf are working on a clever monopole mount for the Bad Elf Surveyor

The crew at Bad Elf are working on a clever monopole mount for the Bad Elf Surveyor

Bad Elf has developed an integrated GPS and mobile device monopole for rapid mobile mapping

Bad Elf has developed an integrated GPS and mobile device monopole for rapid mobile mapping

Bad Elf GNSS Logging – The Bad Elf allows continuous logging of points. After a hard day in the field, it’s nice to know how much ground you covered. Logged information can be downloaded as GPX files and visualised in desktop GIS solutions such as QGIS.

Signal Hill Park Map from QGIS. Bad Elf track points (orange) displaying the total ground covered in this mapping exercise.

Signal Hill Park Map from QGIS. Bad Elf track points (orange) displaying the total ground covered in this mapping exercise.

*GNSS, Global Navigation Satellite System, is the collective term for all navigation satellites groups (constellations) including GPS.

 

If you would like to know more about configuring an external GNSS to work with Mappt, please contacts us at: support@mappt.com.au

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External GPS sources for Mappt. Part 1: Configuration

gis_manAre you looking to improve your positional accuracy in Mappt?  

Connecting to an external Bluetooth GPS can help!

We’re often asked about improving the positional accuracy information used by Mappt.  As you may know, Mappt uses the onboard GPS from your mobile phone/tablet.  While the on-board GPS accuracy may be sufficient for some types of mapping, others require higher accuracy.  To achieve this Mappt can utilise an external Bluetooth GPS feed.  GPS devices capable of streaming positional information via Bluetooth in the NMEA format are suitable for Mappt.

As phones and tablets are designed to utilise their own integral GPS hardware, Mappt users will need to utilise a third-party application to incorporate an external Bluetooth GPS feed.  These external Bluetooth GPS streams serve to oreplace the internal GPS service to thus provide higher positional accuracy.  Android refers to these apps as Mock Location Providers since app developers often need a GPS feed for coding and testing.  One Bluetooth streaming app compatible with Mappt is Bluetooth GPS (on Google Play).

bluetooth-gps

Bluetooth GPS is available on the Google Play Store

After installing Bluetooth GPS it’s necessary to enable Developer Options, accessed via the Settings on your device.  Developer Options can be enabled by first finding the Build Number (for our device* it’s under Settings-About Tablet-Software Information) and tapping Build Number seven times.  A notification will appear to inform you that Developer Options have been enabled.  Afterwards in Developer Options (Settings-Developer Options-Debugging), users need to select Bluetooth GPS as the Mock Location Provider.

Link to Youtube Video: Settings to Enable Bluetooth

Settings to Enable Bluetooth GPS for Mappt

Then connect to the external device via Bluetooth and start Bluetooth GPS on the tablet.  From the Select Paired GPS device and connect list, choose the device and tap CONNECT.  The screen will be updated with new location parameters.  You’re now receiving location information via Bluetooth! Check out this video showing how to enable an external Bluetooth GPS for Mappt

* The configuration can vary depending on your tablet or phone.

 

 

 

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5 Ways GIS is Transforming Agriculture and the Environment

What are the major implications of GIS for agriculture, the environment and preserving our earth in 2017?

Geospatial technology is transforming the agriculture industry in unimaginable ways. In only a few short years, the power and accessibility of digital mapping both on and offline has changed the way farmers and agricultural structures are doing their most basic tasks.

Geographic information systems (GIS) allow us to visualise, analyse and understand geographic data. They can show us which crops are thriving, how pollution is hindering and which fertilisers are enhancing.

With this kind of revolutionary technology in full swing, there has never been a better time for farmers, environmentalists, foresters and agriculture specialists to capitalise on productivity.

Agriculture and Farming

GIS has revolutionised a farmer’s work. With the help of expert GIS consultants, farmers are now able to access the latest satellite technology with precision agriculture.

However, there are simpler, cheaper and more accessible ways the power of location can be utilised by farmers themselves.

farmer-880567_960_720

Mobile Devices

Mobile mapping applications have evolved dramatically in the last few years, making paper maps and pens ancient history. Mobile apps work on hand held tablets or smartphones, reducing the need for bulky computers or complicated surveying equipment when out in the field.

Mappt™ is a mobile GIS data collection app which enables users to create, edit, store, and share geospatial information. Farmers can use and handheld device to drop a pin or mark a specific location on a digital map. Using a lightweight, compact device such as a tablet or phone empowers farmers with the capacity to easily collect their own data.

Mappt’s receptive interface allows farmers with minimal training to use drop-down forms at each location point, noting a piece of information or attribute such as the type of fertilizer used, the condition of the crop or the topography of the land.

Some variables farmers may need to collect and analyse include:

  • soil type
  • elevation (topography)
  • crop yield
  • crop quality
  • field boundaries
  • management zones
  • remotely sensed imagery
  • weed and pest locations
  • historical land use

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compact

GPS

Global Positioning Systems or GPS are freely available and built in to most compact devices. A GPS displays your exact location on the earth’s surface by picking up data instantaneously sent from several satellites orbiting the globe.

Mappt’s GPS can be used to track a job out in the field. It’s ideal for remote locations as it works completely offline, can be paused and restarted at any time, and runs in the background while you collect other data. For example, a farmer may use GPS to pinpoint designated positions in the field to collect soil samples. This information can be logged in a handheld device before, during and after samples are collected, whilst tracking a person’s every move.

Geotagging

Another benefit of using a hand-held device with an inbuilt camera is being able to capture photographic evidence. Geotagging images collected in the field to their exact location provides farmers with additional information and offers a reference for future crop analysis and comparison. Thus, improving overall accuracy and efficiencies.

Geofencing

There are disasters to avoid in agricultural planning that can have a detrimental effect if inaccuracy occurs: droughts, drainage, roads, insects and floods. Their heavy impacts can be avoided through GIS assisted strategic planning.

Mapping is used to examine and evaluate these attributes to ensure maximum accuracy when identifying new areas to plant crops or make existing yields more efficient.

When working in the field, separating zones is also crucial as it’s not always clear where your boundaries end and your neighbours’ begins.

Mappt™ allows you to not only draw lines and polygons, but colour code areas and set warning visual and audio alarms. Once a geofence is created, a farmer will be alerted with an alarm notification if a boundary is breached. This ensures you do not disturb land that doesn’t belong to you or plant crops in a restricted area.

geofence

GIS for Climate Change

We know conservation and environmental management is imperative for the sustainability of the earth, especially in today’s rapidly evolving technological world.

Recent history has taught us that human impact can have a dramatic effect on the environment as well as shifting global climates. This is creating complex challenges for businesses in every industry – particularly agriculture.

According to the World Wildlife Federation, agricultural practices are responsible for around 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with contributing factors including fertilisers, livestock, burning of savanna and agricultural residues, and ploughing.

Farming our food does not always give back to the earth.

Climate change is anticipated to affect crop production in several ways, but most impedingly, precipitation and temperature changes. Rainfall and temperatures may shorten or lengthen the growing season or cause an increase in droughts and flooding. Because of these environmental changes, crop prices could skew and become economically nonviable.

GIS plays a fundamental role in the ongoing challenge to reduce and cope with the effects of climate change, specifically determining what crops we sow and where to maximise land efficiency.

Below are some of the ways GIS can assist with plotting relief:

  • Ensure accurate reporting with improved data collection
  • Improve decision making
  • Increase productivity with streamlined work processes
  • Provide better data analysis and presentation options
  • Model dynamic environmental phenomena
  • Create predictive scenarios for environmental impact studies
  • Automate regulatory compliance processes
  • Disseminate maps and share map data across the internet

Accumulating data on the problem and adjusting relief and contingency methods in accordance to this data, is how GIS can play a major role in shaping a solution.

crop-drought

What does it mean for our future?

In the past, it was difficult for farmers to know how and which farming methods were working efficiently due to the continuous variations and irregularities across the land.

Today, technological innovations such as GIS and mobile mapping have transformed common agricultural systems and revolutionised field efficiency and productivity.

With this kind of technology in our pockets, mobile GIS will expectantly continue to improve production for farmers in a way that is sustainable in the future and hopefully provide a reliable source of food for all.

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siobhan-profile2Siobhan Herne
Marketing and Communications

Siobhan has no background in GIS, she’s a beginner, just like you. Follow her stories for an easier digest of all things geospatial.

Sources

http://www.environmentalscience.org/agriculture-science-gis

http://www.sugarresearch.com.au/icms_docs/178430_GIS_and_Precision_Agriculture_IS14015.pdf

http://www.americansentinel.edu/blog/2012/03/14/farmers-use-gis-technology-for-a-growing-world/

http://www.hitachi.com/rev/pdf/2009/r2009_06_106.pdf

http://www.gps.gov/applications/agriculture/

http://www.pitneybowes.com/us/location-intelligence/case-studies/use-location-intelligence-to-turn-big-data-into-business-insight.html

http://www.gpsalliance.org/agriculture.aspx

https://theconversation.com/farmers-of-the-future-will-utilize-drones-robots-and-gps-37739

 

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Mappt Infographic

We thought to make our licensing system a little easier to understand, so we created this easy to follow infographic to illustrate.

GPS Tips and Tricks in Mappt for Android

One of the most-used features in Mappt is the ability to capture location data from internal or external GPS devices. With Mappt, users can record their movements throughout an area, turning this GPS-captured information into features.  These features can then be manipulated and annotated, then ultimately exported as Shapefile or KML, to be sent via email or uploaded to cloud-based technologies.

Based on the feedback we’ve received from Mappt users “in the field,” we’ve decided to highlight some tips and tricks when working with the GPS functionality in Mappt.

Image of a Baboon Sitting on a Cliff

Clearly lost, this baboon ponders the power of Mappt’s GPS capabilities.

Tip #1: “Walking Out” an Area

Did you know that, when you are in “polygon drawing mode” or “line drawing mode,” you can drop a new vertex at your current location? This is handy for “walking out” an area when you are in the field.  In the image below, I took a casual stroll around a sand pit, adding vertices at my current GPS location to a polygon as I went.

Partially-drawn polygon being mapped from the user's movements.

A partially-drawn boundary of the sand pit, using points dropped at my GPS position.

The resulting polygon is a bit messy, being subject to GPS inaccuracies, but could easily be tidied up within Mappt, or exported and tidied up on a desktop machine.

Polygon Created by "Walking Out" the Boundary

The completed polygon.

This minor feature provides a range of applications, from mapping boundaries as demonstrated above, to measuring paths or areas, to simply logging landmarks as markers on a map.

Tip #2: Take a Break on Large Trips

Mappt is capable of handling captured GPS paths with tens of thousands of vertices, but eventually performance will degrade under such weight.  We recommend pausing, saving then restarting the GPS tracker every hour or so, which will split your path into smaller segments.  These can later be stitched back together if necessary.  This will also allow you to hide unimportant segments using the visibility toggle button, which reduces the workload on Mappt and promotes responsiveness.

Screenshot of a segment of a captured GPS path with over 7000 points

Mappt will remain responsive, even when working with captured GPS paths with thousands of points

The rate of vertex collection will depend on several factors, such as speed and overall GPS activity, so you may want to experiment with the amount of time between saves.

Tip #3: Ditch the GPS and Use High-Res Imagery For Increased Accuracy

This tip may seem a bit out of place in a blog post about GPS tips, but it all falls under the category of georeferencing features in Mappt.  If you have high-res and accurately-georeferenced imagery of your remote location loaded into Mappt, you can use visual inspection of your surroundings to accurately place features on to the map. For example, you could determine your location by picking a nearby tree or rock formation and finding it in your offline imagery loaded into Mappt.  You can then be sure that a feature placed at that location in Mappt will have reasonable geospatial accuracy (as long as the georeferencing of the imagery is accurate!).

Tip #4: Mappt Will Continue to Capture GPS Data in the Background

As long as you leave the GPS tracking enabled within Mappt, it will continue to capture GPS data, even if you minimise or switch to another app.

Screenshot of the Mappt Background Service notification area item

Mappt will put an item in the Notification Area to let you know it is capturing GPS data.

Note that if you exit Mappt from within the menu (Menu -> Exit Mappt), Mappt will shut down the GPS and stop capturing points before it exits.

Useful apps (from other people) for Mappt users

When developing software, it’s important not to overload with features that the majority of people don’t have a need for. Instead we are working to make the best Android based software for getting your data from the field to the office.

So rather than adding a lot of unnecessary bells and whistles, we have been looking for Play store apps that are either free or low cost and can be useful tools in the field for Mappt users.  We collected a short list below of useful 3rd party apps but will add and update this as we find or are told about apps that can help you do your job.

As these are 3rd party apps we can’t guarantee they will work on your tablet or be supported in the future but all are pretty popular with a good user base.  Any problems or questions about these apps should be directed to the developer

If you have any to add to the list, just let us know and we’ll have a look and if we like them we’ll add them to the list.

So here they are:

Bluetooth GPS (Free)
An absolute necessity if you want to tie in a GPS that’s more accurate than the one found in most tablets.  Just run the app and connect with your Bluetooth enabled GPS and watch the GPS error circle shrink. Mappt automatically uses this signal, overriding the inbuilt GPS. Great price too.

Clinometer + bubble level (Free / $0.99)
Great in built clinometer / level for looking at geological and other structures and saves you carrying an extra tool around but you will have to add the data to Mappt manually.

GPS Status (Free / $3.49)
Great little tool for working out what your GPS and other general locational data including:

  • GPS error (m)
  • GPS satellites with a fix / available
  • Pitch / roll
  • Altitude (MSL)
  • Brightness (lux)
  • Lat / Long
  • Orientation / heading

Unfortunately the free version has the occasional annoying ad at the bottom. The PRO version removes the ads and adds additional features including:

  • show/store/edit multiple waypoints and use them on the Radar for navigation; and
  • pressure, rotation, temperature, humidity values (if device supports them).

If you are also using Bluetooth GPS , this app will show your external GPS error margin but not the satellite fix data.

AirDroid (Free)
Great app for linking your android tablet to a PC over a wireless network (or over the internet) and comes with a number of really useful features including:

  • Desktop SMS Send & receive SMS from the comfort of your computer. Faster typing and navigation with the full keyboard and large screen.
  • Files and Media Move photos, videos, ringtones and any other files on and off Android, all without a USB cable.
  • Find Phone / Device  Locate and lock your Android when it’s lost. Cannot get it back? Simply wipe all data remotely and the innovative intruder feature that takes a photo of the “intruder” who tried but failed to unlock your device.
  • Manage Apps Easier way of app search, installation and apk export.
  • Camera and Screenshot See through the lens of your Android camera, front and back. Or stream the screen of your Android in nearly real-time.
  • Phone Calls, Clipboard , Url transfer and more Call contact, share clipboard content, push url to Android and more features awaiting your discovery.

ES File Explorer File Manager (Free)

Judged by our developers as the best explorer and file manager available for Android it allows easy linking up to Windows based systems all-round the best tool of its type for Android, with over 10 million users, it’s hard to argue with those numbers.

 

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Using an External GPS Unit with Mappt

During the development of Mappt for Android, we tested Mappt on a range of devices.  Much to our disappointment, we discovered that the quality of the internal GPS hardware varies greatly across devices.

The accuracy of your GPS unit may not matter when you are dodging angry dogs on your daily jog, but definitely matters when you are geo-tagging assets in the field.

blog_gps_lost_glasses

Despite what it looks like, I wasn’t looking for a dropped contact lens.

To overcome this issue, you can use a commonly-available external GPS unit via Bluetooth.  While Mappt does not include native support for external GPS units, there is a workaround available.

The workaround requires the installation of a free app from the app store, as well as a minor settings change.  The app makes use of a feature, named “Mock Locations”, which is intended for app developers to test their software, but in our case, allows us to easily make use of an external GPS unit.

Step 1 – Find a device

In our testing, we used a Qstarz GPS unit, but we expect any unit will work, so long as it can be paired to an Android device.

Step 2 – Pair the device

Pair your bluetooth device with your tablet.

Step 3 – Install the free app

Download and install Bluetooth GPS – a free app from the market.

Step 4 – Run the app

Run the installed app.  If required, in which case the app should tell you, you will need to go to your tablet’s settings and enable Mock Locations.

Back in the app, check the box for “Enable Mock GPS Provider.”

Select your external device and click the Connect button. You should see it start capturing data.

Step 5 – Profit!

Run Mappt as normal and enable the GPS by clicking the satellite icon in the top action bar.  Mappt will use the best GPS available to it, which in this case should be your external device.  Win!

blog_gps_thats_better

Much better!

There are a wide range of Android devices and an equally wide range of external GPS units available.  Thankfully, the method described in this post will allow you to overcome shoddy GPS readings!