Trimble's Ruggedized Juno Takes GIS on a Field Trip

29 Feb, 2012 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

The third-generation handheld device combines positioning, imaging, and communications tools in one pocket-sized package for asset management and data collection.

Positioning solutions provider Trimble introduced a new series of lightweight, handheld devices for GIS field applications this month: the Trimble Juno 3B and 3D. The new series is designed for field workers from organizations such as public utilities and municipalities who perform asset management, data collection, inspections, and related tasks.

According to Chris Stern, director of business development for Trimble Utilities business, the company used to focus primarily on high-accuracy data collection. Now, however, it seeks to accommodate the daily workflow of utility, municipal, and other field workers as well. The primary need for these users is not extremely high accuracy, Stern explained; instead, they require a simple, rugged solution that provides streamlined workflows through a combination of hardware and software.

"The third generation of [the Juno] product line ... is designed to expand the use of mobile technology outside of core users, to those who aren't as familiar with the concepts of GIS and GPS," Stern said. Those "core users" are engineers, who make up only a small percentage of the utility employees who need to access data in the field. The majority are engaged in operations and maintenance, or customer service. "It gives the utility worker a device they can use every day," said Stern, as they inspect and repair fixed assets or install smart meters.

Adapted to the Environment

Today, said Stern, the majority of utility workers are equipped with a cell phone, laptop, or radio, or some combination thereof. The Juno combines navigation, data capture, computing, and communication capabilities in one device, which features a screen designed for clear viewing in direct sunlight. The Juno 3B features a high-sensitivity GPS receiver, a 5-megapixel autofocus camera with geotagging capabilities, and Windows Mobile software. The Juno 3D includes those features plus 3G wireless technology.

The Juno units are dust-, water-, and shock-resistant. Their IP54-level ruggedization makes them better adapted to field work than cell phones or PDAs are, Stern said. "The cell phone is not designed to withstand the harsh environments that [field personnel] work in. ... [Exposure to weather and temperature extremes] prohibit the cell phone from being a primary computing device in the field ... and the accuracy is not that good." In addition, the Juno's compact size and light weight give it a portability advantage over laptops, which may work well in vehicles but are difficult to carry in the field, Stern noted.

The positional accuracy of the Juno — 2 to 5 meters in real time, or 1 to 3 meters after postprocessing — does not reach that of Trimble's GeoExplorer line of handhelds, and it isn't meant to, Stern said; each device serves its own purpose. He believes that utilities are best served by equipping the majority of their field workers with the Juno (either on its own or in combination with a vehicle-mounted device), and a smaller number with the company's Yuma tablet (which can be vehicle-mounted), Nomad handheld computer (which is more ruggedized than the Juno), or GeoExplorer (which is intended for high-accuracy mapping).

Beyond Hardware

The Juno series devices support industry-specific software applications including Trimble Field Inspector, which is used in gas, electric, and water utilities, and Trimble Municipal Reporter, which is used for incident reporting in government agencies. Stern cited a study by the American Management Association that found that a significant portion of a mobile worker's day — up to two-thirds, in some cases — is spent on activities other than direct, productive work: getting job instructions, finding asset locations, updating maps, completing paperwork, and the like. Field Inspector reduces that "non–wrench-on-bolt time," Stern said.

For GIS mapping and data collection workflows, users can run Trimble TerraSync software on the Juno. "It's [a combination] for a utility worker looking primarily at mapping in the field," said Stern. (TerraSync's office counterpart is Trimble GPS Pathfinder Office.)

Mapping solutions made available with this hardware release also include Trimble Positions, a developer toolkit for customers who want to build on Esri ArcGIS Mobile, and the GPScorrect extension, which runs on top of Esri ArcPad (its office counterpart is the GPS Analyst extension, which runs on Esri ArcGIS Desktop).

All the Trimble software will read and write into most common spatial data formats, Stern said, supporting whatever mapping workflows the customer is already using.

Monitoring a Moving Target

Equipping field workers with GIS data-collection devices doesn't just help them get their jobs done; it also helps GIS managers keep their data accurate and up-to-date. "Mapping is sometimes not a one-project activity," said Stern. "The reality is that ... assets are changing on a daily basis." Stern explained that even seemingly fixed assets undergo status changes constantly, as valves are opened and switches are flipped.

Stern also noted the regulatory compliance benefits of GIS data. "GPS is not just used to bring back a point," he explained. "The GPS is a time, date, and location stamp. ... It captures an accurate record that can hold up from a regulatory standpoint." Stern pointed to a recent gas pipeline explosion in California as a case study in the value of accurate GIS and field maintenance record-keeping. "[The post-incident investigation] found that the utility did not have accurate maps and maintenance records — no proof that they knew the exact location and condition of assets or were doing adequate maintenance."

Going Mobile and Global

Stern observed that the Juno is finding applications in developing regions around the world. "It provides an entry point ... a way for price-sensitive markets and customers with large field workforces to begin using mobile technology with a single solution."

Demand for mobile technology is great in some emerging economies, as utilities and governments seek to manage large-scale infrastructure deployments. In India, Stern said, the government has backed a large investment in smart-grid technology. Trimble is also looking at similar projects in China, said Stern, as well as Brazil and various parts of Africa. "The U.S. and Western Europe may be ahead of other [regions] in smart grid, but the first phase in all of those investments is deploying smart meters," he observed. Depending on the size of the utility, that can involve millions of meters — which may translate into a lot of Junos.

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