Esri introduces high-precision GNSS mobile GIS software

May 19, 2016  - By

In its 47-year history, Esri has never before built a high-precision GNSS mobile GIS software . Sure, one could connect a high-precision GNSS receiver to ArcGIS Mobile or even ArcGIS desktop running on a tablet, but in those cases and all others, there’s no direct support for high-precision GNSS receivers.

By support, I mean the software features that one needs to automatically collect reliable, verifiable and defensible high-precision GNSS coordinates and associated metadata, like real-time estimated accuracy, correction age and other metadata that can be referenced months or years later to understand the quality of the data collected.

Until now…

Collector for ArcGIS is a cross-platform mobile GIS app that’s available for iOS, Windows 10 and Android. Until now, Collector did not differentiate between low-precision GNSS data (for instance, a smartphone’s internal GNSS receiver) and RTK GNSS (centimeter-accuracy) receivers, so it was difficult to know what sort of accuracy one was achieving even when a centimeter-accurate receiver was connected to it.

Esri is on its way to solving this problem.

Earlier this month, Esri introduced a beta version of the new Collector for ArcGIS mobile GIS software that incorporates features for high-precision GNSS data collection. While Collector has been around for a few years, it has not allowed the user to differentiate between low-precision GNSS data (such as a smartphone internal GNSS receiver) and RTK GNSS (centimeter-accuracy) receivers. To circumvent that limitation, high-precision GNSS receiver vendors offered companion apps that run concurrently with Collector to display metadata. However, that’s not a fun solution because if the user wants to records GNSS metadata, he would have to tab between apps and hand-enter the GNSS metadata into attribute fields in Collector.

Another nagging problem for high-precision GNSS users with Collector is the lack of an on-the-fly datum transformation feature. Sources of high-precision GNSS receiver corrections come in different datum flavors (ITRF08, NAD83/2011, NAD83/CSRS, etc.). Those datum flavors don’t necessarily match a user’s GIS database, sometimes introducing a meter or more of error.

Historically, Collector didn’t give the user an opportunity to apply an on-the-fly datum transformation to reconcile datum differences between the high-precision GNSS receiver datum and the geodatabase datum. Yeah, you could fix it later by applying a datum shift after the fact, but it’s a tedious and laborious task to do so, and sort of defeats the purpose of having an efficient real-time GNSS data collection workflow.

I was using the beta version of iOS Collector for ArcGIS this week with a survey-grade  RTK GNSS receiver that, according to GPS World’s 2016 Receiver Survey, delivers 1-centimeter RTK accuracy. Setting up the GNSS correction profile is a bit tricky. There are three settings you need to select. Following is a screen capture of the profile settings I used for RTK in Collector when the RTK base was referenced to NAD83/2011:

MOBILE-GIS-3

When setting up a GNSS receiver profile to use WAAS/SBAS as a source of corrections in Collector, you’ll need to select GCS ITRF 2008 instead of GCS NAD 1983 2011.

Once I got the proper datum transformations dialed in, RTK GNSS accuracy was where it should be when compared to a survey mark (3.7mm):

MeasurementPostCollection-W

Another tricky area with Collector is the GNSS metadata. It’s great that Collector supports automated GNSS metadata recording, but in order for Collector to record GNSS metadata, you’ll need to follow the Esri data model for GNSS metadata. Essentially, add fields to your database that will be populated. Here’s a link to the supported GNSS metadata fields.  http://arcg.is/22h41yR. Note that you’ll need to log in using your Esri account credentials to view the link.

I didn’t add the GNSS metadata fields to the database to try it because this iOS beta version doesn’t support GNSS metadata (Esri says it will be supported on the next beta release), I did collect a bit of data. Here’s what the Collector screen looks like:

MOBILE-GIS-1

Some of the fields on the iPad Mini were cut off (I’ll report that to Esri), but you can see that it is entirely possible for Collector (iOS) to accept and record data from an iPad using an RTK GNSS receiver (note accuracy value at the bottom left corner of the screen.

So, to Esri’s credit, they’ve appeared to address the GNSS metadata and datum transformation problems in the beta release of Collector, making it the first Esri mobile GIS that supports high-precision GNSS. The iOS and Windows 10 beta versions are available now to users who register for Esri’s Collector beta program. For support and answers to questions, you can visit Geonet.

Before you get too excited, even with the new features Collector is still a light-weight mobile GIS and likely always will be, as long as it’s a free app (although not always free to use). But this is certainly a move in the right direction for high-precision GNSS receiver users who want to live in the Esri ArcGIS Online/Portal/Server ecosystem and rid themselves of shp files.

Some of you may beg to differ that Collector is Esri’s first high-precision GNSS mobile GIS data collection software. I know ArcPad has been around for years and has supported high-precision GNSS receivers for many years. In fact, if you install the GeoBullsEye plug-in, ArcPad becomes the only 3D, high-precision GNSS data collection software that works real time in the Esri AGOL/Portal/Server ecosystem. But, it wasn’t built by Esri :-). An Australian company named Maptel built ArcPad, and then Esri acquired the company a few years ago.

While the beta versions of Collector for Windows 10 and iOS are available now, Esri reports that the beta version of Collector for Android should be available next week.

Thanks, and see you next month.
Follow me on Twitter at GPSGIS_Eric

This article is tagged with , , , and posted in GNSS/GPS, GSS Monthly, Mobile Devices, Opinions, Technology

About the Author: Eric Gakstatter

Eric Gakstatter has been involved in the GPS/GNSS industry for more than 20 years. For 10 years, he held several product management positions in the GPS/GNSS industry, managing the development of several medium- and high-precision GNSS products along with associated data-collection and post-processing software. Since 2000, he's been a power user of GPS/GNSS technology as well as consulted with capital management companies; federal, state and local government agencies; and private companies on the application and/or development of GPS technology. Since 2006, he's been a contributor to GPS World magazine, serving as editor of the monthly Survey Scene newsletter until 2015, and as editor of Geospatial Solutions monthly newsletter for GPS World's sister site Geospatial Solutions, which focuses on GIS and geospatial technologies.

10 Comments on "Esri introduces high-precision GNSS mobile GIS software"

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  1. Lance Andre says:

    This is the push that was needed to start the next revolution in field data collection that we’ve been calling BYOD. We will be showing this at the ESRI show with our X20i. As the article states it worked before, but you always had to switch to our running app to see the extra meta data.

  2. Lance Andre says:

    This is the push that was needed to start the next revolution in field data collection that we’ve been calling BYOD. We will be showing this at the ESRI show with our X20i. As the article states it worked before, but you always had to switch to our running app to see the extra meta data.

  3. John Koles says:

    Why has it taken 20years for ESRI to do this. Should be avail Standard on Arcpad.

  4. John Koles says:

    Why has it taken 20years for ESRI to do this. Should be avail Standard on Arcpad.

  5. Great to see that Esri has implemented these neat features in Collector 10.4.0 Beta. We tested all our Eos Arrow GNSS receivers on iOS and they worked great! Good job!

  6. Great to see that Esri has implemented these neat features in Collector 10.4.0 Beta. We tested all our Eos Arrow GNSS receivers on iOS and they worked great! Good job!

  7. Paul Durgin says:

    My issue, derived in no small part from being a licensed/registered surveyor(two states) for several years, and a GIS practitioner since 1988, is that handheld devices will need RTK procedures to be much closer to “repeatable” results. The GIS community, in general, has little geodetic training (and I include myself in that latter group). The software is not an issue. It is a means to approximate somewhat more reliable positioning. But it is not a panacea for issues of nearest meter positioning. Those have been with us for decades. One issue always remains the same: the referencing framework is an approximation of the oblate spheroid that we inhabit (expressed as X,Y,Z coordinates). The values achieved will always require an implied asterisk, namely the datum and projection used.

    • Eric Gakstatter says:

      I’d say that software is THE issue. RTK technology has been around for 20 years. The mobile GIS software to handle it has not. Geodesy is the reason I wrote about Collector now. Collector has actually been on the market for a few years. The significance of this release is that it implements on-the-fly datum transformations so you can collect data at the centimeter level and reconcile it with your GIS database so the user is not only achieving centimeter precision, but also centimeter accuracy. It also introduces automated GNSS metadata storage (estimated accuracy, etc.) to provide data traceability.

      I agree that RTK procedures are important in collecting reliable centimeter data. Software is helping there too. Alarms for estimated accuracy, correction age, etc. are available to warn the user of poor RTK performance. Reliable RTK is getting easier, cheaper, and GIS-friendlier.

  8. Paul Durgin says:

    My issue, derived in no small part from being a licensed/registered surveyor(two states) for several years, and a GIS practitioner since 1988, is that handheld devices will need RTK procedures to be much closer to “repeatable” results. The GIS community, in general, has little geodetic training (and I include myself in that latter group). The software is not an issue. It is a means to approximate somewhat more reliable positioning. But it is not a panacea for issues of nearest meter positioning. Those have been with us for decades. One issue always remains the same: the referencing framework is an approximation of the oblate spheroid that we inhabit (expressed as X,Y,Z coordinates). The values achieved will always require an implied asterisk, namely the datum and projection used.

    • Eric Gakstatter says:

      I’d say that software is THE issue. RTK technology has been around for 20 years. The mobile GIS software to handle it has not. Geodesy is the reason I wrote about Collector now. Collector has actually been on the market for a few years. The significance of this release is that it implements on-the-fly datum transformations so you can collect data at the centimeter level and reconcile it with your GIS database so the user is not only achieving centimeter precision, but also centimeter accuracy. It also introduces automated GNSS metadata storage (estimated accuracy, etc.) to provide data traceability.

      I agree that RTK procedures are important in collecting reliable centimeter data. Software is helping there too. Alarms for estimated accuracy, correction age, etc. are available to warn the user of poor RTK performance. Reliable RTK is getting easier, cheaper, and GIS-friendlier.