A guest blog from Layik Hama, University of Leeds
‘I would say that what makes smartphones smart, in large measure, is their sense of location’
Michael T Jones – Google Earth/Maps
Smart phones and geoscience fieldwork ought to be a perfect match. Both are about location. Both are becoming increasingly accessible, as smart phones become cheaper and geoscience data more readily available. So why have the two not met yet?
Geology students at UK universities still seem to find themselves with little choice but to use the traditional tools of the field, with research into new digital field techniques still prefaced with the question ‘does this replace the tools we have relied on for centuries?’
But surely quality research relies on adding to, not replacing tools or skills? As things stand, are students currently using smart phones in the field for anything other than listening to music?
I’m researching these issues as part of my PhD at Leeds, hoping to find the techniques that will lead to the development of an app for use in the field. First, I need to identify the specific problems students encounter when using current field tools and techniques, so I’m looking for more first hand accounts, from students and staff.
Smart apps in the field
There are those who say the Earth sciences are the most visual science of all. Yet, whilst there are heavyweight visualisation software applications (ESRI’s ArcGIS to name one) to aid professional geologists carry out their office tasks, there is little to aid geology students carrying out their field tasks – despite the fact that the same packages are ‘offered’ to students in their laboratories.
Student tasks in the field can be categorised into: capturing data, viewing data and analysing data. For each of these tasks, there’s an app.
- Capturing data: As of 6 February 2013, a search in Google Play app store returns 25 results for ‘strike and dip’. The top two apps are Rocklogger and GeoClino.
- Viewing data: We’ve had applications for this since the age of PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants). Again, if we search Google Play we get over 96 results for the same date when querying ‘geological maps’. The top two are RockLogger and BGS iGeology – ignoring WolphramAlpha, which is not free and not a specialist geology application. It should also be noted that RockLogger’s main purpose is not data viewing.
- Analysing data: This is where my research is focused, and searching for relevant apps is not a simple task! I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has had experience of using apps for analysing field data.
To get you involved in my research and share your use of digital field tools and techniques, here are some direct questions:
- What specific problems are you/your students having in the field? Is it reading geological maps? Spatial problems?
- What digital tools (apps or otherwise) are you using to address the above issues?
- Do you have any geological app development projects to share?
In the next part I will be discussing the issues I have identified. I will also give a summary of the results of my initial evaluation of current tablet applications such as Google Earth and BGS iGeology3D.
- Layik Hama is an EPSRC funded PhD student at the University of Leeds, working with the Visualization and Virtual Reality group at the school of computing.