EDINA, the Jisc funded data centre based at the University of Edinburgh, has just released an app that allows users to capture data against high quality base maps. Fieldtrip GB has been designed to support teaching, learning and research in Great Britain. In summary, Fieldtrip GB:
- is free to download and use
- uses high quality background maps that offer rich data in both urban and rural environments
- allows maps to be cached for off-network usage
- enables data capture
- includes the ability to create custom data collection forms that allow users to define the data they want to capture.
So what does it look like?
The app is split into 4 sections; Home, Maps, Capture and Download and Sync. In addition there is a header which displays active elements such as the GPS/GPS tracking and a footer which allows quick navigation between the sections (Fig 1).
Part of the appeal of Fieldtrip GB is the mapping it uses. The maps have been designed and optimised for a small screen making them ideal for viewing on a mobile phone. One of the challenges when creating the app was to ensure that the mapping worked in both urban and rural environments. This is tricky as user will be looking for buildings, roads and road names in urban areas but users in rural areas may be more interested in features such as contour lines and rivers. Getting the highest zoom levels right was tricky but a new feature in Mapserver 6.2 allowed the developers to create an urban mask. Areas that were considered to be “urban” would display OS Street View data, whereas “rural” areas would display OS VectorMap District data augmented with OS Land-Form PANORAMA contours and path data from Natural England. In addition, considerable effort was made to place labels in sensible places, not an easy task when you need to automate the process for the whole country. Examples of the cartography are shown below (Fig 2)
We understand that mobile data connectivity is not reliable in many areas of the country. Fieldtrip GB has been designed to allow users to download maps to their phones prior to going into the field. This way they will be available when data connectivity is not. There is the additional advantage that you can use WiFi to download the maps and not eat into your data allowance.
Capturing data doesn’t require a data connection. You can collect data all day, or in fact all month, and then upload it all when you are able to connect to a strong WiFi signal.
There are two ways to capture data in Fieldtrip GB; by using one of the standard capture elements which support text, images, audio and GPS tracklog capture, or through the custom capture forms.
The custom capture forms are created through the Fieldtrip GB Authoring Tool. This is a website that allows users to design forms by dragging elements into an editor and defining the specific parameters they want to capture (Fig 3). We think this is where Fieldtrip GB really stands out as a useful research tool. The Authoring Tool allows you to design data capture to meet your specific research aims. Custom data capture forms are uploaded to you Dropbox folder so that they can be accessed from your phone. To load them on your phone, just login and then perform a sync. This will grab any new forms from Dropbox and save them to your phone.
Here’s an example of a form, in this case it is for collecting information about rocks (Fig 4). There is a drop down selector allow users to specify sedimentary, metamorphic or igneous rock types, sliders to record dip and strike, a note book reference and a photo capture option. Quite simple things, but easy to record and data will be consistent. We added a field-note Book ref so users could tie the digital record to their paper notes which might include specific details or a sketch.
Upload –> Edit –> Share
Once you have captured your data you can upload it to your Dropbox account and then either access it from there or view, edit and export it through the Authoring Tool (the authoring tool is so much more than an authoring tool). In the authoring tool you can export the data from GPX format to other useful formats such as KML. You also have the option to share your maps with others. The Authoring Tool will mint a WMS of your data and provide you with a link embedded in your Dropbox folder, all you have to do is control who you share this link with.
Well, the app is available for Android Devices and you can download it from the Google Play Store. We have submitted it to the Apple iStore and are awaiting approval. If all goes well this should take no more than a couple of weeks.
As for future versions and developments, we have a few features that we want to improve but what we really want is feedback from users. What would you like to see in the app? What would you need to make this an indispensable tool for teaching and research.
Take a look at the Fieldtrip GB website