February 05, 2007
GIS for the BlackBerry
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Welcome to GISWeekly! The TDC Group, Inc. announced recently that its web mapping application, Freeance, has been extended so that users can now create GIS and database applications for Research In Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry handsets in a no-programming environment. Read about Freeance Mobile in this week’s Industry News.

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Top News of the Week, Acquisitions/Alliances/Agreements, Announcements, People, New Products, and Events Calendar.

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Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

GIS for the BlackBerry

by Susan Smith

The TDC Group, Inc. announced recently that its web mapping application, Freeance, has been extended so that users can now create GIS and database applications for Research In Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry handsets in a no-programming environment.

A commercial-off-the-shelf software application, Freeance has approximately 200 clients throughout the U.S. which have been web based. (Freeance Web) clients are state and local governments, utility and code enforcement customers.

Where Freeance Mobile Fits in –

Freeance Mobile, as the new capability is called, allows clients to have real time GIS maps and real time databases out in the field. Those clients in code enforcement, for example, can view new inspections as they come up during the day because their BlackBerry is reading their enterprise database. They can also browse data stored in ArcGIS or ArcSDE and then use custom forms to read/write to their enterprise database. “It’s very easy to maintain on the IT side, it’s all plug and play,” said Chuck Bridgman.

The reason TDC went with BlackBerry was because it is the leading handheld for the local government market. Taking advantage of the existing databases and GIS services such as ArcIMS, and the GIS servers, TDC ships software to this market and they install it on a web server at their location.

Once it is installed, the BlackBerrys can communicate over standard BlackBerry service, or data service channels by any courier. If you ask the BlackBerry to show you a map, then ArcIMS or the ArcGIS server will port back a map, or go out to Oracle or SQL Server and bring back a record or report, then it will push it back to the BlackBerry. A data communication goes out to the databases to collect data.

Three Freeance applications run on the BlackBerry:

1) MapViewer, which behaves basically the same as a GIS web browser. You can pan, zoom, turn on orthos, turn layers on and off, select location, all on a BlackBerry for any ESRI server based mapping. System administrators can create custom map viewers within a few hours.

2) Users can use custom forms that write back to enterprise databases with GPS Collector. Users can populate forms in the field and add GPS points. In terms of placing GPS points, the end user can either grab GPS from the BlackBerry or for more accuracy, TDC has built a very slick connection to any Bluetooth GPS receiver so clients can use a Garmin for 6 foot accuracy or go out with a Trimble XT and get subfoot. The Freeance software in the BlackBerry will automatically detect whether the user has a Bluetooth GPS receiver.

3) A search feature allows mobile users to locate records within the enterprise database in their organization. A Report Generator allows users to go to Microsoft Access and find every record issued that week to that same databases. The database connections are live and connect directly to all the major enterprises databases such as DB2, Oracle, SQL Server, PostgreSQL., and MySQL.

How it Works—

For the demo, an “emulator” was used, which is essentially like a BlackBerry except that it’s onscreen.

Once the Freeance software applications such as Search, GPS Collector and MapViewer have been downloaded, they are on the system. When you go into Map Viewer, you can view the data of any county in the U.S. The example was in Shelby Co., TN. You can go to this location and look at their data, such as an ArcIMS server in this location. You can start this application. The Freeance application loads the map, so that now this BlackBerry is looking at the ArcIMS Server in Memphis. You can pan around, move the cursor over and up, zoom, select, point. You have ArcIMS on your BlackBerry, using any carrier.

The map viewing component of Freeance Mobile allows you to turn off groups of layers at one time. The browser window is the administration software, which allows the IT administrator, GIS coordinator to build the application in five minutes. You can hook up to a map resource such as Santa Fe County’s ArcIMS, then make a map configuration to push out to the BlackBerrys quickly, and hit apply to create a profile and give it a name. “I can build these applications in 60 minutes and push them out to field crews right away,” explained Bridgman.

The GPS Collector allows you to make any form you want. In the example given, Birmingham Water uses this for their field crews as they go out and turn off and on water valves to turn service on and off for their customers. Often, the water valves get lost under bushes, or cemented over, etc., so they want to ID these valves, with such information as what type of valve it is, manufacturer, location, etc. They can fill in these forms, and grab the GPS point to identify the location, then submit the record and push it back to their enterprise database. For code inspections, a user can field inspect 1,000 houses and push these records back to their enterprise or ArcSDE database.

“As people are out in the field collecting these points, they show up live on my application, so for example, a police department can track their police officers, they can record records, but they can get their BlackBerry to track vehicles or pedestrian officers. They can start to do AVL tracking with it,” Bridgman said.

“In any county, you can drill down into their application and create a virtual map service with Freeance, so it looks different to me, but the county is not going to have their application altered. You can add map configurations inside their ArcIMS, you can put in a search.”

In order to write back to SDE, the administrator must set up in advance the type of database they want the users to write back to. They must know the address, user name and password. For the user, once this is set up , the process of writing back to the database is just point-and-click.

Matthew Reddington Jr., CEO of TDC Group, summed up the efforts of the company: “ RIM Blackberry and Microsoft are the two platforms of choice in North America,” he said. “We’re taking some very complex technologies and pulling them together into a very simple and easy to use package that IT and GIS staffs can use to display live data while adding the ability to display and search records that have been created in the field by mobile workers.”

Top News of the Week

Trimble introduced the Trimble(R) VX(TM) Spatial Station, an advanced positioning system that combines optical, 3D scanning and video capabilities - - Trimble VISION(TM) technology -- to measure objects in 3D to produce 2D and 3D data sets for spatial imaging projects. The new Trimble VX Spatial Station revolutionizes the scope of services that surveyors, engineers, mapping and geospatial professionals can offer as well as provide them with an entry into spatial imaging applications to enhance business opportunities. The Trimble VX Spatial Station enables users to blend extremely accurate ground-based information with airborne data to provide comprehensive datasets for use
in the geospatial information industry.


Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging announced that Geosystems France is now an authorized distributor of Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging software products. Geosystems France will specialize in the areas of remote sensing, digital photogrammetry and 3D applications.

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-- Susan Smith, GISCafe.com Managing Editor.


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Geospatial Software QA Engineer for Applied Research Associates, Inc at Albuquerque, North Carolina
Assoc Geographic Info Analyst for North Central Texas Council of Governments NCTCOG at Arlington, Texas
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