How quickly things can change. Just formed in 1992, the West Central Conservancy District (WCCD) provides sewer service to more than 8,000 customers in Hendricks County, Ind., immediately west of metro Indianapolis. As development from Indy continued its westward march, it became necessary for WCCD to implement a Geographic Information System (GIS) for the 51.25-square-mile service area.

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The agency first selected another provider for the GIS, but decided to transition to Beehive for the benefits of ease of use and lower costs. WCCD officials needed data, and had a firm perform a field inventory of their system. Unfortunately, the inventory was found to be incomplete, and in some cases inaccurate. Determined to correct the data and improve the GIS inputs, WCCD looked to a scalable, handheld GPS system that could be configured for different accuracy levels from sub-meter to centimeter. WCCD set up an account with Indiana’s statewide network for receiving sub-meter corrections via a cellular connection. Immediately, the agency began seeing tremendous results as its GIS became more meaningful.

Had WCCD stopped there, all would have been happy. But as often happens when a user gets comfortable with new technology, Don Raley, GIS technician at WCCD, soon started wondering: “What else can the technology do?”

The first task that came to mind was getting away from paper maps and the constant driving to and from the office when maps were needed. The maps were a few years old, which meant they no longer depicted their data accurately and were becoming worn out. Paper map books also cannot provide the same amount of information as a digital dataset with all attributes.

While GPS was a good tool for the initial need, it was quickly determined that it was not the ideal tool for everything. With maps of sewers covering more than 50 square miles, each map with multiple layers, massive files were being created for the field. Trying to store and access so much information on any brand of Windows Mobile-based devices often leads to slower performance speeds. This OS challenge led to only certain maps or specific layers being loaded to maintain optimum performance. But the goal was to have all the information available all the time, and Windows Mobile was the wrong platform for that.

To The Rescue

In June 2013, Raley contacted his new GIS consultant, Jason Tuck of Providence GIS, and discussed the limitations of the current solution and the desire to do more now that the GIS data was becoming more accurate and usable. In turn, Tuck consulted with Jason Hooten from Topcon Positioning Systems, and Hooten’s suggestion was a move to eGIS for Android. The system was still in development; the company wouldn’t announce its release until July 2014. Regardless, WCCD moved forward with the recommended solution as an early adopter customer.

“Android brings flexibility and increased performance over many Windows Mobile-based devices,” said Hooten, “and the devices are typically much more affordable for the customer.” eGIS is also available for Windows Mobile devices from Topcon, including the Tesla and FC-500. “For many professionals, eGIS for Windows PC or Mobile-based products have been great solutions,” said Hooten. “By offering eGIS for Android, we’re making the eGIS solution available to an even larger number of users.”

Providence GIS Solutions recommended installing eGIS Android on Google Nexus 7 tablets, and WCCD started off with two tablets. The Nexus 7 has a great display, multiple uses beyond being a data collector and, perhaps best of all, an inexpensive cost. “The cost is anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 lower than a comparable dedicated handheld field data collector,” said Tuck. WCCD also traded in its handheld device for the new Topcon HiPer SR integrated receiver. This allowed either of the Nexus 7 tablets to Bluetooth to the high-accuracy HiPer SR, as needed, for doing initial collection, position edits or locating tasks. When doing simple navigation, using as a map book or updating attribution, eGIS uses the Nexus 7 standalone.

The move from eGIS Windows Mobile to eGIS Android brought:

  • easier-to-use interface
  • touchscreen functionality for easy zooming in and out of data
  • increased screen size to 7 inches
  • better performance with large datasets
  • the potential for better communication with office through email, text and even live video via Skype.

“Often times, GPS gets sold without discussion of what the goals and needs are beyond the initial project in front of the customer,” said Hooten. “This must change with new technologies and the move from dedicated, single-use data collectors to smartphones and tablets. We are seeing a great shift away from dedicated handhelds to tablets to provide greater screen size, increased processing power and multipurpose usage.”

What Can This Do?        

Regardless of the device on which it’s installed or the OS on which that device runs, eGIS has several important features. For WCCD officials, key features of the eGIS Android solution that excited them included shapefiles, real-time correction, eWebSync and eViewer.

Shapefiles have been around for some time, but they still provide speed and compatibility with many different GIS and survey desktop applications, such as Esri, Autodesk and Beehive. With real-time correction, there is no need for post-processing. Utilizing WAAS corrections or state network RTK-based solutions accuracy can be achieved in the field, instead of waiting to post-process in the office. Real-time accuracy is essential for anyone doing relocating of buried features like utility lines.

eWebSync is a cloud-based data transfer utility that connects the field with the office for faster decision-making and elimination of those time-consuming and costly trips to and from the office. eWebSync also helps speed decision-making by getting near real-time data back to management for review and quick action planning. The eViewer desktop application, as its name implies, is a simple viewer of eGIS collected field data. However, it is so much more and essential to any eGIS implementation.

Within eViewer is the eWebSync desktop utility to manage data flow between office and field through the cloud. Also, the template wizard provides all the simple tools to customize the forms, buttonbars and settings, so eGIS can be designed by users to best fit their requirements and workflows.

Changing Needs

In Hendricks County, Ind., fields that once grew soybeans and corn were now sprouting office complexes and shopping centers. The benefits of moving from the handheld device to the HiPer SR were both obvious and essential to WCCD’s GIS progress as the area grew. The receiver would continue to provide speed and accuracy as development and density increased.

The unit is built on the Topcon Vanguard system-on-chip, which includes 226-channel tracking of all current and upcoming GNSS constellations, L1/L2/L5 signal support, and up to 20 hours of operation on a single charge. The SR is designed to bring superior tracking in challenging environments with the patented Fence Antenna, and is scalable for whatever accuracy level is required.

WCCD’s account with the Indiana Department of Transportation for use of its InCORS network can achieve 1- to 3-feet accuracy with the sub-meter version of the HiPer SR. Options for the receiver would allow WCCD to increase accuracy to less than 1 inch if the agency also used the RTK correction instead of the DGPS correction from the network. While the receiver is used for precision locating and mapping, the accuracy of the tablets is sufficient for WCCD personnel in the normal course of their jobs.

GPS for mapping purposes continues to evolve. Many early GPS systems for meter or sub-meter accuracy were backpack-based. Then, the handheld sub-meter system became a standard due to the smaller size and lower cost. Now, with the worldwide embrace for tablets with touchscreens and an ever-increasing amount of quality datasets, there is a new shift from handhelds with limited use to tablets and smartphones being paired with receivers only when a task calls for the accuracy.

“With devices like the HiPer SR, we provide reliable, high-accuracy positioning to our applications, as well as third-party applications on devices likely already purchased for other tasks within the organization,” said Hooten. “This helps clients get better utilization, increased ROI, and less warranty and maintenance fees.”

Feeding the GIS

With initial success of eGIS on the Android tablets, WCCD added an additional tablet and license of eGIS Android. The additional license enables an additional field crew access to the latest GIS map data, and the tools to update as needed.

Raley hopes to have tablets with eGIS Android for all employees as the Beehive GIS implementation continues.

“Our tablets and eGIS for Android give us the speed and efficiency that a small agency like ours needs in order to remain cost-effective,” said Raley. “We appreciate the benefits, and so do our customers.”