I was looking back through my paltry list of blog posts this year, and the post on smartphones reminded me of this post regarding tablet usage in the field.
It's amazing what a difference a few years makes.
Environmental consulting always seems to run on tiny margins. I've worked for multiple organizations, and I've never had access to the newest and shiniest things. We only get technology if we can make a strong business case for it, and often it seems to be that a business case is "geez, it seems like everyone else has it, and now the clients expect it." I wasn't surprised to see that the exploration folks were using tablets before us.
But by now, all of the field people I know either have their own tablets assigned, or have access to a generous pool of them. Tablets are cheap, durable, and small enough that they can replace most paper forms and ancillary equipment, and it's becoming much easier to input data (photographs, field notes, calculations) or to have our instruments log data and send to our tablets automatically. Once collected, that data can be sent back to the field team leader so that the investigation is managed in real time - far easier and less time-consuming than poring over a pile of papers after the field staff have finished for the day. If a piece of equipment is misbehaving or we're getting strange results, it's easy to send data or photos/videos immediately, so that the project technical/management folks can adjust the project as needed.
I don't see the fundamental activities of fieldwork changing with technology, though. Regardless of how much we automate, there are certain tasks inherent to fieldwork: sending out people to troubleshoot, collect samples, shoo away destructive wildlife/curious passerby, and observe details that would be otherwise missed. And there are tasks inherent to keeping staff safe, accounted for, and working toward the correct goal. Regardless of how we collect data, we'll still need to meet and coordinate in a shared space regularly to make sure that the project is on track, that project roles are understood, and that everyone is ok.