GIS

Integrated GIS-GPS Device Proving Field-Worthy

4 Nov, 2008 By: Andrew G. Roe,P.E.


Collection of geospatial information in hazardous or inaccessible locations has become much easier in recent years, thanks to advancing technologies in GPS, laser distance measuring, and digital photography. The integration of multiple technologies in one device is now enabling soldiers and civilians to determine geographic coordinates at remote targets up to 1,000 meters away.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been one of the chief adopters of the ike 504 device by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), headquartered in Columbia, Maryland. The device integrates a military-grade GPS receiver, digital camera, inclinometer, compass, and laser distance meter in a 2.6-pound unit.

Standoff
The Corps' Engineering Infrastructure and Intelligence Reachback Center (EI2RC), based in Mobile, Alabama, has used the ike in collecting assessment data for various branches of the military worldwide and in hurricane relief efforts in the United States. The Corps has found the device's "standoff" capability, or the ability to collect geographic coordinates at a distance, a key feature while collecting data in potentially hazardous areas and areas ravaged by hurricanes.

"The standoff capability of the handheld ike device is the reason why the ike unit was chosen over other GPS products," said Lynn Hardegree, the Corps' program manager of the Geospatial Assessment Tool for Engineering Reachback (GATER) program, a combination of software applications and business processes that support the EI2RC in geospatial data collection efforts.

Collaboration
Because the ike incorporates a Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system and ArcPad from ESRI, users can customize the ike interface using an optional software development kit, a feature the Corps has employed extensively. The Corps and its contractors have developed data collection forms that run on top of ArcPad on the ike device. The forms correspond to various modules of the GATER program, including critical infrastructure, real estate/lease, environmental conditions, access/entry control points, special operations weather, explosive ordnance disposal, civil affairs, bridge reconnaissance, and construction project monitoring. Custom applications can be developed in embedded Visual Basic or C++ environments.

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Soldiers collect field data using the ike and a customized GATER application (Image courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

With GATER applications running on the ike, as well as in desktop and online environments, data can be exchanged readily, Hardegree said. The

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The ike 504 integrates multiple features in a 2.6-pound unit (Image courtesy of SAIC).
GATER program maintains an online database of field data and uses ArcGIS Explorer to visualize data. Field data is transferred from the ike to desktop computers via a USB connection and uploaded to a server for collaboration. "This allows us to synchronize data collection in an area of interest and avoid duplication of effort," noted Hardegree.

Data can also be transferred via WiFi and Bluetooth connections, said Chad Quill, ike504 program manager. With synchronization software installed on a PC, "data can be put into a geodatabase in a one-button push," he said. GPS data can be saved in either a comma-separated value (CSV) format or as a shape (SHP) file read by ArcInfo and other GIS software.

Another key feature is the integration of photographic images and coordinate data. The crosshairs of a target can be saved with the digital photograph, maintaining a record of where locations were determined, added Quill.

Click for larger image
The Corps of Engineers used the ike to collect data related to Hurricane Ike relief efforts (Image courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). (Click image for a larger version)

ike's History
The ike product was originally developed commercially by Surveylab, a New Zealand company with offices in McLean, Virginia. Commercial models include the 105, 205, and 305, which have capabilities similar to those of the 504, but lack the military-grade GPS. Distance capabilities range from 100 meters for the 105 unit to 1,000 meters for the 305 unit. Positional accuracy is rated to be within five meters. The laser distance meter accuracy is within 0.5 meters. Costs range from $6,300 to $8,900, with discounts provided to government customers and for any purchase of 10 or more units.

In February, SAIC and Surveylab signed an agreement giving SAIC the exclusive rights to incorporate the Selective Availability and Anti-Spoofing Module (SAASM) into the ike platform. The resulting product, ike 504, added GPS encryption, anti-jamming, and anti-spoofing capabilities to the commercial product features. Jamming essentially creates a false GPS signal that overpowers the real GPS signal, while spoofing creates a false GPS signal that passes as a real GPS signal and generates an incorrect time or location on the receiver.

If GPS signals are disrupted in certain parts of the world, "this unit can still get a GPS signal," Quill said. Accuracy of the 504 is rated to within four meters.

The agreement was necessary to provide a custom model to the U.S. military. "Since SAASM technology is controlled under International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) by the U.S. government, working with a U.S.-based company is the only way we [a New Zealand-based company] could bring a SAASM-based ike to market," said Surveylab CEO Leon Lammers van Toorenburg in a February press release.

The Corps' EI2RC originally used the commercial-grade units, but is now using the ike 504 for military customers, said Hardegree.

Coming Attractions
While the ike's current features have already impressed users, still more could be on the way, said Quill. Possibilities include extending the target range beyond 1,000 meters and adding infrared camera capabilities. The scope of additional features "depends on our customers' needs," Quill added.

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