Monday, November 11, 2013

tablet time?

Avid readers will remember that I am not exactly an early adopter of technology. But I am willing to incorporate new tech into my work as long as it's (a) not prohibitively expensive, and (b) is better than the old tech. "Better" may mean fewer transcription errors, faster process, more accurate, or (very rarely), prettier output.

Right now, fieldwork still involves a pile of forms (papers) which are filled out, transcribed as needed, and archived in bankers' boxes.

A tablet is ideal for replacing field log sheets such as groundwater sample logs, where you need to input data on a regular interval. If I have a laptop, I usually use excel-base forms that I can print as a PDF. I haven't found a good app for creating, transferring, and exporting that sort of data yet. Other programs I use, such as those used to generate, export, and manipulate boring logs, don't really have good functionality for tablets yet - they're still essentially the same as for a computer, and they're incredibly awkward to use. Awkward to use is not great if you're trying to keep up with a fast-paced field program.

Has anyone started using a tablet to replace their field forms? If not, do you have a prediction for when this will happen? I know that they've been tried as experiments at various times in the last 3 years or so at the places I've worked, but at least for now, my paperwork is still primarily paper.


Silver Fox said...

I saw this on Twitter after RTing your post: "@sfoxx @Geoblogfeed There's always the "write your own app" option, so you can have exactly what you need on the form." from @jeffersonite -- I don't use apps much, so can't comment on how much effort this would take.

@cbdawson said...

Yes, data collection via handhelds definitely takes place. I have only seen a few generic commercial apps -- most are specific to a particular equipment system or tool, or custom-built by an organization.

If this is for small-scale or personal use and you already have editable forms you like, it might be relatively efficient for you to find a system where you can edit those on a mobile device and cache them locally, then sync back when you are on the network. Some basic file sharing services let you cache them for access when offline. You might need to edit your forms to be more mobile-friendly for easy data friendly, so you'd have multiple form designs.

On the other hand, if you are always online, you could create a web form that dumps your data into a database or some other record.

1o2p3e4r5 said...

Tablets and the like are becoming increasingly coming in exploration, for sure. I have logged core, chips, soil samples, etc directly into Acquire on a Toughbook or Tablet for several different employers. I've even entered geotechnical mapping of underground drive walls directly into a tablet.

I have done several seasons of early stage stream sed and soil sampling in the boonies where we used Junos/Trimbles with a software the name of which I'm bizarrely blanking on considering how many hours I spent wrestling with it in camp at night. This is becoming extremely common for that kind of work: the Trimbles give you a form you enter all your data into from drop-downs, capture your GPS position, tag the photo you take with the device of your sample locality, and then show it all to you on a map you upload with all the goodies you want before your poor crew chief spends her night downloading it all and plotting it in Arc while you watch movies in the kitchen tent.

It isn't perfect but MAN did it beat manual data entry into Excel at night (been there many times, never want to go there again).