Technology available to researchers in the field has not kept up with what most of us are used to at our desks.
Sure there are Palm Pilots and other handheld computers. But most don't offer the type of information researchers need when conducting field research.
That all may end thanks to two Iowa State professors.
The pair, Sarah Nusser, associate professor of statistics, and Les Miller, professor of computer science, are the lead investigators on a research project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The three-year grant, which is funded at $1.7 million, will help Nusser and Miller conceive, develop and test an extensible framework to support the collection and use of geospatial data in the field.
"Project Battuta" also includes researchers from the University of California at Santa Barbara. The project is being developed in conjunction with several partner Federal agencies including the Bureau of Census, several programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Currently field researchers for these various agencies rarely utilize handheld computers. When they do, the computers are not capable of receiving additional information essential for the completion of their work, such as digital photographs or maps. One of the agencies Nusser and Miller are working with use the Apple produced "Newton" computer, while others use data recorders or stand-alone laptops.
"The current systems don't allow field researchers to go on the Web or allow them access to a broader array of information," Nusser said. "Our main goal is to develop computer science infrastructure and methods to effectively use digital geospatial data in mobile field environments."
"To do this requires a new paradigm for field data collection that draws upon the ability to integrate distributed geospatial information resources in a mobile environment," Miller said.
Nusser and Miller are looking for ways that will increase the simplicity and flexibility of the user's interactions with data resources. They will also look into future mobile technologies such as wearable computers.
"Project Battuta's" other objectives include:
- Conduct research on computer science tools and associate information technologies required to fully integrate digital geospatial data into the collection process.
- Conduct research on infrastructure components that are needed to implement the system in a manner that limits the complexity of the system from a vantage point of the user in the field.
- Explore the framework model and research developments in an application environment by developing prototype components and testbeds that correspond to specific Federal agency data collection settings.
"The whole grant is aimed at providing resources to the mobile field researcher that they can't access right now in the field," Nusser said. "We're hopeful that this will increase data quality and expand the type of data that can be collected as well as allow the field researchers to do their work more efficiently.
"An infrastructure that will allow researchers to access digital information in the field will be a far more effective resource than has been available in the past."