The advancement of mobile phone, Bluetooth, and GPS/GNSS Smartphone functionality is important to the procedures of workers in all industries. GIS software redefines the processes associated with tree surveying, automating and expediting these processes and allowing arboriculturalists to work more efficiently.
While previously GIS software would have to be viewed on a tablet or computer, mobile phone connectivity is possible. GIS software products naturally rely heavily on GPS, it is vital that the receiver – such as a third party GPS product or mobile phone, is accurate enough in its GPS capabilities.
How do mobile phones and third party GPS receivers work?
And how have they managed to become accurate enough to be suitable for use with GIS software?
Bluetooth COM Port Technology
It is highly unlikely you haven’t heard about Bluetooth, and it’s even more unlikely that one of your devices doesn’t utilize it.
Bluetooth is popularly used for mobile phones, keyboards, mouse’s, even in cars, and it is crucial in providing functionality between QIS software and mobile phones. It works through short-range radio frequencies that transmit information from a fixed or mobile device. You can read more about how Bluetooth ports work here.
With many different ways of connecting wirelessly, as well as different types of Bluetooth technology – it can be a little overwhelming for people to make the distinction. Dongles, headsets, headphones, PC cards, radios, and more have been known to feature Bluetooth technology. As technology advances and the need for wireless connection become more prevalent, this is only set to continue. This article delves more in-depth into the types of Bluetooth technology with GPS/GNSS Smartphone functionality.
Terrestrial surveying and mapping refer to the profession, technique, and science of determining the terrestrial or 3D positional points of an area, as well as the distance and angles between them. Professionals performing this service are typically referred to as ‘land surveyors’, ‘tree surveyors’, or ‘arboriculturalists’.
The importance of a tree survey cannot be understated. It ensures that both the arboriculturalists working on the site as well as the property/ land owners understand any considerations that may have to be made. Improvements to the efficiency of tree surveying benefit everyone – as it speeds up the process leaving more time for both the arboriculturalists and the property owners to focus on other aspects of their respective businesses.
The mobile phone has evolved at an extraordinary rate over the past decade. Its capabilities, particularly in smartphones, have revolutionised a lot of industries and the accessibility that many people have to these industries. The urban forestry industry has arguably lagged behind in this, but thanks to advancements in dual-frequency wireless capabilities in smartphones – that is changing.
Mobile phones use radio chips that allow them to receive signals from satellite navigation systems which can then determine the location of the mobile phone. This is broadly the explanation of how GPS works and has been a part of mobile phones since 1999. Data accuracy and performance varies, which is due to the quality of the chips used in smartphones varying.
Devices with GPS chips work autonomously, off the grid, and without an Internet connection. Whereas devices with A-GPS chips (Assisted GPS) require a network data connection in order to work correctly. It is worth noting that A-GPS chips can assist autonomous GPS chips by pre-caching data; which improves the performance of these chips.
With GPS/GNSS Smartphone functionality capabilities extending to location services, this allows geospatial mapping to be performed via a mobile phone. This increases the accessibility of performing tree surveying to many more people and simplifies the equipment needed to perform a tree survey. It is also much cheaper, as typically devices with accurate GPS/ GNSS capabilities cost thousands, while most people already have a solid smartphone that already has that capability built-in.
GPS vs GNSS
We believe in staying ahead of the curve, and we recognise that smartphone accessibility is a vital way for the urban forestry industry to catch up to the times and remain practical and efficient.
That’s why we’ve added GPS/GNSS Smartphone functionality for Mapscape to GNSS receivers on a mobile phone or 3rd party device, connecting via Bluetooth. This will allow users to place a positional point on the screen to illustrate the tree position, with colour coding to clearly illustrate the positional point accuracy. We represent the positional point accuracy via three colours:
- Magenta; < 500m positional point accuracy
- Red = < 1.5m positional point accuracy
- Grey = > 1.5m positional point accuracy
You can snap the cursor to the colour coded crosshair to plot your tree position, which will then initiate a survey data collection window.
When going out on-site, you can put positional points on Mapscape, and the program comes with a pre-installed ordnance survey and topographical data built-in. In future, we’ll also be adding a direct-to-print option for those that don’t typically use DXF/ DGG/ CAD drawings.
The app will allow you to visualize tree surveys on the screen to scale, and also offers canopy shapes. Being aware of the importance of tree root protection areas, we have also added them in.
The user will be able to print what’s on-screen using topographical data to iOS standard paper sizes – A3, A1, and A0. This will convert to a PDF and automatically download to a Mapscape folder.
The app has a built-in menu that takes information from the survey, such as the site visit data, client, address, reference number, templates in a side window, a comment section and revision number. This will allow arboriculturalists to produce a site plan without the use of a computer drawing package; saving down on costs for those that can’t access or don’t utilize DXF/ DGG/ CAD drawings. It is important to note that computer drawing is very useful for fine detail, but if you can accept the limitations then this will give you independence and prevent any barriers of entry to these types of roles for clients, providing they will accept alternatives to CAD drawings.
Tree protective fencing can be drawn as a line, and finally, we have multiple layers for different plans. For instance, one layer could be covering a tree felling plan, one for tree RPAs, multiple layers for different plans the client and tree surveyor are considering. These layers can be organized using the layers tab all in one place, offering a simplified and efficient process to all involved with a site.
The benefits of using smartphones for terrestrial mapping with Mapscape are that:
- It reduces costs of purchasing location-service devices that are typically over-expensive
- It makes tree/ land surveying more accessible to people, opening up the doors to many more users
- It allows arboriculturalists who don’t use CAD/ DXF/ DGG drawings to print site plans for clients
The limitations of using smartphones for terrestrial mapping with Mapscape are that:
- There are limited phones with the correct GPS/ GNSS capabilities for the app
- The size of a mobile phone screen is smaller than tablets, which could make the process a little time-consuming
- Different network providers have differing signal quality, which could affect the accuracy of the positional points
The Future of Urban Forestry
Smartphones and their GPS/ GNSS capabilities represent the future of urban forestry, and we’re hard at work to ensure that our program is the most functional and efficient urban forestry app out there. We are accepting any feedback on the app and would love to hear from you and your comments. The benefits of urban forestry have never been a more pertinent topic, not only in our industry but to the world, and we believe in ensuring that tree surveying and terrestrial mapping is as accessible as possible.