Mobile Observations System
Guide to System Components
One goal of the Mobile observations system is to enable field scientists to see how others have structured their electronic data-capture forms and to build off their efforts. The resulting system provides flexibility while promoting the reuse of data structures and formats. Working within this framework, the system enables users to:
- Create and share a set of observation templates
- Produce field forms and a staging database
- Synchronize handheld data with the staging database
- Clean up and validate their data
- Export records to long term data repositories
The system consists of three main components:
- Observation Template Library
- This online collaboration tool allows users to define and share data structures that can be used in collecting observations in the field and managing observation data online. Representing a wide variety of observation protocols, the library enables search and reuse of the available templates to promote interoperability. Preview the alpha site.
- Desktop Applications Suite
This local editing environment provides the interface between the observation template library, a handheld device, and one or more long-term data repositories. The application helps users create field forms for the observation templates they specify, clean up and validate data they’ve collected in the field, and transfer the data to other systems for long-term storage, analysis, and, eventually, distribution.
- Mobile Config Tool: used to process a set of templates downloaded from the Observation Template Library to generate a set of handheld forms, the Desktop Editor, and Pendragon Forms Utilities. This tool also allows users to make customizations that fine-tune how the templates are presented on handheld units.
- Desktop Editor: consists of a postgreSQL database and a visual editing environment. Data collected on handheld units is automatically uploaded to the database when the units are synchronized through Pendragon Forms. The Desktop Editor allows records to be cleaned up and validated in a desktop environment using an interface that is tailored to match the underlying data model. The Desktop Editor and its underlying database are both generated by the Mobile Config Tool.
- Pendragon Forms Utilities: a set of utility scripts that automate the process of importing the generated Pendragon Forms Designs into Pendragon Forms Manager, mapping them to the Desktop Editor’s database, and installing them on handheld units. It is specific to a set of templates and is generated by the Mobile Config Tool.
- Handheld Device
- As they prepare to go out on field surveys, users will load field-data collection forms and any necessary reference data or maps into a GPS-enabled mobile data logger. A donation from Trimble allowed the project’s development staff to test and refine their early prototypes.
- For long-term data storage, the system integrates with NatureServe’s existing observation data management tool, Kestrel. Kestrel is an ArcGIS Server-based system for online observation data entry and management developed by NatureServe in collaboration with Parks Canada and in use for several years now by numerous national parks from the Maritime Provinces to British Columbia. The Kestrel system was designed with many of the same goals and concepts in mind as the Observation Template Library. It too seeks to promote greater standardization among observational data sets from many researchers. The system supports an unlimited variety of observational data by storing a range of data models (different observation templates) within its system-based schema while providing user, project or organization level security in a browser-based environment.
The Mobile Observations System is a software package designed to work with your mobile device, an integrated or external GPS, and a desktop PC or laptop. The system uses these third-party software applications:
- Windows Mobile 5.0, 6.0, or 6.1
- Pendragon Forms 5.1 (license required per user)
- Esri ArcPad 8 (optional, license required per user)
- Windows XP, Vista, or 7
- MS Active Sync (free with Microsoft)
- PostgreSQL (open-source database)
- ArcMap (optional, license required)
- Autolt (open-source scripting utility)
The first release of the mobile observations system is now available for download!
NatureServe is also releasing the source code so that future releases can benefit from contributions by the open-source developer community. The software development roadmap identifies a number of desired enhancements, including:
- ArcPad integration improvements
- Desktop Editor improvements for bulk delete capabilities and easier domain value insertions
- Export Utility improvements to support direct export to Kestrel or other third-party systems
- An Import Project Wizard for copying project configurations between desktop computers
Developers are encouraged to visit our Google Code Project to download, develop, or customize the source code. The Google project page includes an issue tracker for submitting bugs and a group forum for posting questions.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DBI–0547630—Improving Geospatial Data Capture of Biological Features: Development of a Handheld Tool for Field Inventory and Mapping. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.