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Maximizing GPS Accuracy in GIS Data Collection


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Maximizing GPS Accuracy in GIS Data Collection
Presenters: Myles Sutherland Shane Clarke

Good morning. My name is Myles Sutherland, and I'm a product manager with the Mobile team here in Redlands, California. Joining me today is Shane Clarke who is the Technical Sales Manager out of the Olympia office, also with ESRI. I want welcome you all to today's live training seminar.

Copyright © 2009 ESRI. All rights reserved.


Seminar overview
Introduction to GPS Integrating GPS with mobile GIS How to maximize GPS accuracy

Topics include slide presentations, reviews, and Q & As Send in your questions any time during the presentation

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The title for today's seminar is Maximizing GPS Accuracy in GIS Data Collection. For today's session, we're going to cover three key topics: An introduction to the Global Positioning System, we're going to touch on integrating your GPS with the mobile GIS solution, and then we're going to cover how to maximize your GPS accuracy.

The format for today consists of a set of topics delivered through slide presentations, followed by a review, and then questions and answers. If at any time throughout the session you have any questions, please send them in and we'll do our best to answer them after each topic.

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Overview of GPS

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So let's start by looking at the Global Positioning System.

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GPS is critical to your work
Efficient operations
Find projects and jobs Map assets and resources Record events and incidents Locate co-workers

Intelligent business
Competitive advantage Global technology utility Provides reliable positioning Ensures accurate spatial data Good business decisions rely on accurate spatial data

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GPS is critical to your work. It’s critical for a number of reasons. The first is it helps you be more efficient in your operations. You can use a GPS in the field to help your fieldworkers find their projects and jobs, it can be used to map the locations of assets and resources, to record information about events and incidents, and also to locate coworkers.

The GPS is also critical because it helps your business be more intelligent. Not only does it provide you with a competitive advantage, but it is also a global utility. A GPS can be used anywhere within the world and provides the most reliable positioning source available today. One of the key things about using a GPS is it helps you ensure the accuracy of your spatial data. Good business decisions rely on accurate spatial data, and GPS is one of the best ways to help support this.

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Global Positioning System (GPS)
Network of satellites
Department of Defense Broadcast radio signals Provide work wide location

GPS receivers
Embedded in mobile devices Track and process signals Report GPS positions

Using GPS for mobile GIS
Locate yourself on the map Collect feature locations
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So let's take a look at the Global Positioning System itself in more detail. The GPS system is really just a network of satellites that's maintained by the U.S. Department of Defense, and they're designed to broadcast a set of radio signals that are used by GPS receivers to generate their locations. The GPS receivers themselves take many different forms and shapes. In the past, these were very specialized devices. Over time, we've seen the GPS chip sets become embedded in more of the consumer mobile devices. The chip sets themselves are designed to work with the radio signals from the satellites to track them and process those signals.

Using software or, more specifically, firmware that is built for the GPS receivers, they are able to generate locations and report their positions. The GPS has many different use cases throughout the world and different industries. However, when we think about it with mobile GIS, there are really two key use cases. The first is being able to use the GPS position to locate yourself within or on a map, and also being able to collect new information; in this case, the geometries of features that go into making up any of your maps.

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Differential GPS (DGPS)
Improves accuracy of the GPS
Consumer device 2–5 m Professional device > 1 m Survey device > 10 cm

Relies on reference networks
Measure against a known location Calculates sets of corrections Broadcast and applied by GPS

Corrects some errors in GPS
Ionosphere and troposphere impacts Satellite and clock issues Does not correct environmental influences
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The GPS system itself can provide you different types of accuracy. The autonomous system, by default, will give you anywhere in the range of, say, five to 20 meters, depending on the types of conditions and GPS chip sets that you're using. One of the techniques that’s been developed over time is the differential GPS, or DGPS. This is a technique for augmenting the accuracy and actually improving the accuracy of the GPS positions that the receiver is going to report to you. And again, the range of different accuracies that you can expect based on the type of device you are using—the consumer device, you might expect somewhere in the range of, say, two to five meters. With a professional device, something that's been designed for the GIS market, you'd expect anywhere in the range of one meter to sub-meter, and then for some specific types of survey workflows, the survey GPS devices can support anywhere from decimeter or sub-ten centimeters down to even sub-centimeter accuracy.

The differential GPS system relies on a reference network. These are reference stations or base stations—basically other GPS receivers that have been located over a known location. This is a location that we've surveyed, and we understand very accurately it's location in the real world. These GPS receivers, or base stations, are being able to track the same GPS satellite signals and generate a set of corrections or adjustments

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between what they expected the measured distance to be, and what they actually observed. These corrections are then broadcast from the base station, or the reference network, to the roving GPS device. These corrections can then be applied by the GPS device to improve the accuracy.

One of the great things about the differential GPS system is that it actually corrects for a large number of the errors in the GPS system. You can correct for some of the ionosphere and tropospheric impacts; also some of the satellite and clock issues that are inherently part of the GPS network in the system. However, it is important to remember that the differential GPS does not necessarily correct for any of the environmental influences. As you'll see throughout our presentation, we're going to cover some of the topics of how to actually improve the accuracy of the GPS.

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Integrating GPS with mobile GIS

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So that was just a quick introduction to the Global Positioning System, and now we're going to step through how GPS has been integrated with different mobile GIS solutions.

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GPS is used widely with mobile GIS

UTILITIES Field inspectors

PUBLIC SAFETY First responders


CONSTRUCTION Site observers

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As you're well aware, GPS is used in many different industries. When we think about mobile GIS, there are a number of different industries that are already applying the use of GPS today.

In the utilities market, there are a large number of customers who are already looking to use GPS to support their field inspection workflows. These are where inspectors are taking out existing asset information on their maps and using their GPS to help them locate those assets and perform simple inspections, updating key information or descriptive information about those particular assets.

In the public safety market, first responders and observers are using GPS on a daily basis to support their needs: for instance, being able to route themselves to incidents, or even to be able to sketch on the map around their current location to record different types of observations.

In the construction and engineering markets, a lot of site observers are using GPS also to locate themselves. This enables them to be able to create more accurate crises type sketches or designs on the fly in the field.

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Another area that GPS is being applied heavily is in the government, especially in the local, state, and federal space, where GPS is actually being used to accurately map the locations of different objects in the field. For example, using high-accuracy GPS to accurately locate street furniture, or even assets and other types of information that they need to collect, to build up very detailed maps.

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Map content and GPS solutions

Base maps provide real-world context
Topographic, streets, parcels, buildings, and many other layers Collected from survey GPS, lidar, or image processing

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When we think about the Global Positioning System and how it integrates with our mobile GIS, it is important to understand that there is actually a relationship between the type of map content that you're working with or wanting to inspect or collect, and the right GPS solution for your needs. When we think of a GIS map we really think of it containing three different types of layers. These are the base layers the provide a lot of context in the field; the operational layers which contain a lot of the business data that you want to work with and manipulate, and also some of the real-time layers that provide you with additional context about not only your location, but also other information going on around you.

With the basemaps, these provide you with a real-world context. Examples of these are things like topographic maps, street maps, parcels or building layers that are part of your particular basemap. A lot of the information contained in basemaps is traditionally collected with a survey GPS system; maybe with lidar or some form of image processing. These are very detailed and complex workflows that provide the most accurate spatial data possible to support your basemap needs.

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Map content and GPS solutions

Operational layers contain key business data
Assets, resources, incidents, events, and many feature types Collected using consumer and professional GPS devices

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Full operational layers that contain a lot of your key business data, this is where you're going to manage and manipulate information about your assets, resources, could be incidents or events—there are many different types of features that you're going to work with here. Typically we see these types of features being collected using either a consumer or professional GPS device, depending on the scale that you're going work at, and the level of accuracy you need to achieve to be able to make the right decision from this information.

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Map content and GPS solutions

Real-time layers show instant results
Current location, breadcrumb trails, co-worker locations Collected using GPS devices and other tracking solutions

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It's important not to forget about the real-time layers within your maps. These are layers that show instant results. It could be information about your current location using the GPS. Maybe it's displaying a bread-crumb trail of where you've been throughout the day, or perhaps even it helps you view coworker locations coming from other GPS devices. Or, perhaps there's a specialist system like an AVL or APL system. These are typically collected straight from the GPS device itself, or maybe some other tracking solution that's been designed for that dedicated purpose.

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Mobile GIS applications use of GPS
Connect directly to GPS receivers
NMEA protocol supported Other third-party extensions Trimble, TopCon, SiRF, Magellan, and others

Locate and navigate the map with GPS
Find features near your location Navigate through the map As the crow flies or using streets

Collect feature geometries with GPS
Average positions: Points/vertices Stream positions: Lines/polygons
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When we think of the integration between the Global Positioning System and the mobile GIS applications, it's important to understand what the key touching points are. One of the great things about our mobile GIS solutions are that they connect directly to a broad range of GPS receivers. This is possible thanks to the National Marine and Electronics Associations protocol. This is an industry-standard protocol for reporting key information from GPS receivers. All of our solutions are designed to work closely with the NMEA protocol.

One of the key things to understand about the NMEA protocol is that it's a one-way reporting protocol. So our software connects to the GPS receiver using NMEA, and listens to this information—perhaps the positional information and some of the associated metadata such as the number of satellites that are being used or the current DOP—and uses this information to present it to you within the mobile GIS application itself.

In many cases, especially in the high-accuracy data collection markets, there is a need to be able to also control the GPS receiver and be able to log or capture additional GPS information that goes beyond what is available with the NMEA protocol. And this is

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where we work closely with a number of our different partners that build third-party extensions to many of our different softwares. You can look for these types of solutions from folk like Trimble and TopCon, and even SiRF and Magellan, and many others.

Our mobile GIS applications are designed to work closely with the GPS system to help you locate and navigate yourself within the map. Many of the different use cases that we touched on earlier are relying on the GPS to help the actual field-worker find features near their current location. So being able to view the map around their current location provides them with contextual information, being able to find and select those features, and then also being able to navigate through the map to them.

There are a couple of different ways that we use the GPS to help us navigate. It could be as the crow flies, where we're using the GPS and a bearing to help guide us to a particular feature. This is extremely effective if you're working in a large park or maybe a forestry type of situation. Or perhaps we can navigate using the streets, where we're using more of a turn-by-turn voice guidance type of experience where the GPS itself is tied up to very detailed street information that can give us that specific guidance.

We also integrate closely with the GPS to help support the collection of feature geometries. So with our GIS features, obviously we like to collect the locations of points or perhaps even to be able to sketch out lines and polygons that represent those types of features. And there are a couple of different techniques that you can use that we've designed to integrate directly with the GPS. The first is to average some of the positions. This is a great technique when you're collecting a point for a point feature, or perhaps individual vertices that are going to feed into a line feature. Or, you can look to stream the GPS positions where as you walk along, using the GPS, it’s going to log every single position and use that to build up the particular geometry.

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Review and Q & A
GPS is critical for your work Differential GPS provides good accuracy Many industries leveraging GPS and GIS Match your GPS selection with map layer needs Mobile GIS tightly integrated with GPS

Photo of Presenters

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So that's just the first section. So I'm just going to run through a quick review and then take our first chance to answer some of the questions that you've been sending in. So if you have any questions now, please start to send them in.

What we've touched on today is that GPS is definitely critical for your work; the differential GPS system provides very good accuracy; and there are many different industries that are leveraging GPS and GIS together. One of the key things to remember is that it’s important to understand the type of accuracy that you need and the relationship between what the GPS can provide to you and the map layers that you're going to be working with. And finally, we're continually working to improve our products and integrate our mobile GIS applications with the Global Positioning System.

What I'm going to do now is hand over to Shane, who is going to run through some of the questions that you've sent in, and provide you with some answers.

Thank you, Myles. We have a number of really good questions, so we'll try to answer as many of them as we can. The first question comes from Gregory from Mozambique, who asks whether the information is LTS is also relevant to the Russian GLONASS

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system. And the answer is yes. These principles and concepts that we are discussing are relevant to all of the Global Positioning Systems, including the Russian GLONASS, the European Galileo system (when it becomes operational), and in a few years' time, the Chinese COMPASS system.

Our next questions come both from Eber in Houston as well as Jose in Littlefield, who ask whether ESRI has any recommendations on which GPS devices to use. There is no right or wrong answer for this, and since the requirements of various mobile applications are very different and varied, and so there is no perfect GPS receiver for everyone. So what you really need to do is look at what your requirements are. What are your accuracy requirements, what is your budget, and how reputable is the vendor that you're looking at? Have they been in business for a number of years? You don't want to buy an expensive receiver and then find out that their support is not very good. What you can also do is look at ESRI's Web site and ESRI does resell some GPS receivers that you may want to consider looking at.

The next question comes from Charles from Olympia who asks, “How can accuracy be maximized under forest canopy?” Forest canopy is probably one of the most difficult environments to get GPS signals, as well as to create or capture accurate GPS data. However, there are a number of tools/techniques that you can use to improve your GPS accuracy. The first thing to consider is to get an external antenna or larger antenna, placed on a range pole so you mount it above your head. That will allow your GPS receiver to receive more signals from your GPS satellites and more signals, higher yield means that you've got a greater chance of getting a GPS position. The other technique is to use averaging, as Myles has discussed. Averaging can definitely improve your accuracy once you've got positions or GPS satellite that you're connecting to. And when all else fails, another option is to use a range finder. If you are able to get a GPS position, in most cases you would most likely want to use post-processing to maximize your GPS accuracy.

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The next question comes both from Mike in Fort Walton Beach as well as Monica in the Otis NG Base, and it's regarding which datum should you use—the WGS 84 datum or the datum of your base station? This is a lengthy topic all on its own, but what it does illustrate is the importance of making sure you use the correct datums. If you don't use the correct datums, you will often find that your data has shifted, say, two, two and a half feet to a specific direction. So if you're seeing a regular shift of your GPS data from known coordinates or known positions, one of the first things to do is look at your datums. So the answer to the question is: it depends on what GPS fix you are using. If you are using autonomous GPS, then you do want to use the default WGS 84 datum. If you are using some form of differential correction, you need to find out what datum that differential correction is based on, what datum the base stations are using and are broadcast in a differential correction. How can you find that? You need to go to the Web site of those differential correction services and that Web site should let you know what datum they're using. So make sure that you are using the correct datum to eliminate any errors from datum shifts.

So that's all the questions that we'll answer at this point, we'll come back to some additional questions later. Myles?

Thanks, Shane. So some great questions there. I can see we're jumping into a lot of the details. So as we work through the rest of the session, I hope we're going to provide you with a lot more information and answer some of those questions as we go.

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Maximizing GPS accuracy for GIS

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So the next section we're going to cover is maximizing GPS accuracy for your GIS.

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Common GPS accuracy questions
1. What type of device should I use?

2. 3. 4. 5.

When is the best time to go into the field? How does environment impact accuracy? What are the best collection methods? Do I need to post-process GPS data?

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And in this section, we're going to actually work through a set of common questions that we receive when we're working with a number of our customers regarding GPS and its accuracy. Some of these questions that we work along are things like: What type of device should I use? When is the best time to go into the field? How does the environment impact the actual accuracy I'm going to get? What are some of the best collection methods that I could use or employ in the field? And do I need to actually post-process my GPS data?

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1. What type of GPS device should I use?
Consumer GPS devices
Ideal for inspection workflows Tuned for walking and navigating Designed to smooth many signals Good yield/poor accuracy

Professional GPS devices
Ideal for collection workflows Tuned for mapping and capture Designed to filter poor or bad signals Good accuracy/poor yield

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So let's take a look at question number one. What type of GPS device should I use? That's a great question, and something that Shane's already touched on briefly there. When you're thinking of the different types of devices on the market today, there are a broad range, from some of the tracking devices that we mentioned earlier on, to consumer devices, professional devices, and then the survey type of devices. Typically in the GIS space, when we're looking to collect information in the field, we're looking to use either a consumer GPS device or a professional GPS device.

When we think about a consumer GPS device, these are typically a mobile device, maybe it's a like a Windows Mobile type of smart phone that's been integrated with a GPS chip set. These are really ideal for inspection types of workflows. And the reason for this is that typically the GPS chip set that's being used has been tuned for walking or navigation purposes. These GPS chip sets are actually going to smooth many of the signals. The reason they do this is that they are designed for this navigation experience where you want to get a very good feedback, or a continual yield showing you that I have position—it's to do with the user experience. So these GPS devices provide you a very high yield, which means that you get positions in a broad geographic area. Perhaps it's around buildings or maybe under some tough canopy conditions.

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One of the things to consider, though, is that they're not necessarily designed to provide you with high accuracy. So when you're looking to use a consumer type of device, these can be really ideal if you're thinking about it based on your budget. But if you're looking to go and accurately capture the spatial locations of, say, the hydrants within your city, they may not be the most ideal device to use.

On the other hand, some of the professional GPS devices that have been designed for the GIS market are really ideal for the collection and mapping workflows. And again, the reason for this is that they've been tuned specifically to use the GPS system to help capture the best possible accuracy, based on the type of workflow you're going to have in the field. These devices actually are designed to filter out many of the poor or bad signals—things like multipath signals that we'll touch on later in the presentation. And as a result, they can provide you a very good accuracy, especially when you're in the open areas. But also, the tradeoff here is that because they’re filtering out many of the poor or bad signals, you get a lower yield. And so this means you might need to look at other techniques to try and capture information using the GPS, if you're in the areas where you have a very tough environment.

So when you're thinking about the device to use, first you need to understand what it is that the field-worker is going to be performing. And once you know that, then you need to look at each of the individual types of devices within that class of device.

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Understand differences in GPS devices

If you can, use a professional GPS device for best accuracy
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Just to help highlight this, we've got a simple graph here, which just shows you some of the different types of accuracy you can get from these classes of device. On the screen, you see within the graph, we are displaying to you a position count. So this is the number of positions that have been logged over time, and then the distance from truth that have been measured. You can see that with the green line for the professional device we're getting a pretty consistent result, anywhere within sort of the sub-meter range.

With the blue line we're showing the consumer device, where the accuracy is probably in the range of about three meters overall, but you can see there's a really broad variability in the positions that are coming out of this device. So when you're thinking about it, if you're looking to do inspection types of workflows and just find and navigate to features, then a consumer device is really ideal. If you're looking to really accurately and capture and provide the best accuracy in the field, then you should be looking towards more of the professional GPS devices.

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2. When is the best time to go into the field?
GPS constellation varies
Health of satellites changes Orbits are adjusted daily

Monitor dilution of precision (DOP)
Relative geometry of satellites Multiplier of GPS errors

PDOP 1 5 10

Rating Ideal OK Poor

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The second question we're going to take a look at today is: When is the best time to go into the field? This is a really, really popular question, and we get a lot of questions about this. And the key thing to remember is that the Global Positioning System is a network of satellites, and these satellites have their own individual orbits that are constantly maintained by the Department of Defense. One of the key things about the constellation is that it does vary. It's not necessarily consistent. This is because the health of the satellites can change, or the orbits are constantly adjusted.

So one of the things that you want to do is to be able to plan when you go to the field as to what is the status of the constellation? One way to do this is to actually monitor or understand the particular measure that we use within the GPS industry that is called the dilution of precision, sometimes referred to, for short, as the DOP. The DOP is really just a relative measure of the geometry of the satellites. That gives you an indication about the quality of the network. When you're thinking about how DOP impacts the accuracy of the data that you're going to collect, it's really just a multiplier of those GPS errors. So when you're using your GPS software and you're monitoring the DOP, what you want to look for is a really low value. So if you have a value around 10, that means that the DOP is currently pretty poor. If it's five, then maybe it's okay to do some data

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collection. If it's in the range of two or one, then it's definitely ideal and would be a great time to be collecting your GPS information.

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Understand satellite geometry

High DOP Value
Only three satellites in view Two outside elevation filters Two blocked by obstacles

Low DOP Value
Now seven satellites in view Satellites moved with time Spread across each quadrant

Look for periods where DOP is small and constellation is strong
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DOP can be a really confusing topic, so we're just going to spend a little bit more time on this, to help you understand how to analyze the geometry of the satellite network. On the screen at the moment you'll see what we refer to as a sky plot. This is really just a view or graphic illustrating a view of what you'd expect to see if you were looking up from your GPS receiver's antenna directly up into the sky. In this case for this graphic, we have a high DOP. The reason for this is that we only have three satellites that are currently in view, and the spread of the satellites throughout our sky view, or our sky plot, is very poor. The reason for this is that we have a couple of mountains and a building in one quadrant that are blocking a couple of satellites, and then we also have two satellites that are very low on the horizon that have been filtered out by the GPS receiver. Perhaps they're being filtered because the GPS receiver is assuming that the ionosphere and tropospheric impacts of the signals coming at such a low angle is too great to use those measurements. So in this scenario, the DOP measure that we would see would probably be very high—maybe seven or eight, or maybe even nine.

On the flip side of this, if you're looking for a low DOP value, you want to see a good spread of the satellites throughout the sky, and you want to have a large number of them as well. In this case here, we have seven satellites in view, and you can see that a

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couple of our satellites have actually moved. The two at the bottom, over time, within their orbit have actually moved and so at their current location now we actually can use those GPS satellites. We've also moved our location so we're no longer being blocked by the buildings and the mountains, and the two satellites in the top left quadrant are now available. This is highlighting a situation where you have a very low DOP value, and it's really an ideal time to be collecting GPS information in the field. So the key thing here is to look for periods where the DOP is small and the constellation is very strong.

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3. How does environment impact accuracy?
Signal blockages
Common in valleys and depressions Caused by regional topography Related to satellite constellation

Signal interference
Common on engineering sites Caused by electronic noise Often the result of microwave antennas

Signal obstructions
Common under dense canopy Caused by vegetation or buildings Results in multipath signals
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The third question we're going to address is: How does the environment actually impact your accuracy? There are three areas we're going to cover here. The first is signal blockages. Signal blockages are pretty common. This is where we're going to be working with our GPS receiver, perhaps in a valley or a depression, where the regional topography is blocking consistently the satellites that we can see below a certain elevation. This has a huge impact on the satellite constellation and, of course, if we now understand DOP, we can measure this and understand that perhaps it's not the best place to be collecting our GPS information.

You also come across cases where the signal interfered with. This is definitely not the most common case, but something to keep an eye on, especially if you're working around engineering or marine sites with some form of noise or microwave antennas that can impact the GPS receivers themselves directly. Then also there are signal obstructions. These are where the signals themselves are not necessarily blocked but perhaps they are bounced off a particular object. This is common in dense canopy, where maybe it's a vegetation scenario with very dense trees with large tree trunks, or maybe you're in an urban canopy scenario where you're around a large number of buildings. This is what we refer to as multipath, when you get signal obstructions and

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large numbers of multipath signals. This has a big impact on the GPS receiver, and the accuracy it's going to provide to you.

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What is multipath?

Line-of-sight signals
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So let's take a look at multipath in more detail. When we're working with our GPS receiver, at all times we want to maximize the number of GPS satellites that we can see directly. We refer to this as a line-of-sight signal. You can see on the graphic here we're tracking two satellites and we can directly track the radio signal from those satellites. Because the GPS system is a timing-based system, it's using the timing information from these radio signals to determine the distance between the satellite and the GPS receiver.

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What is multipath?

Blocked signal
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Of course, if we have an obstruction in the way—something like a building that's going to block some of our signals—then we're not going to make a measurement from a particular satellite.

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What is multipath?

Multipath signal
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However, one of the more important cases to understand is where the signal itself is being bounced off this building, or a multipath signal. The reason this is a issue for us is because of the GPS system and the way that it's measuring its distance between the satellite and the GPS receiver. In this case, it's expecting the distance or it's calculating the time of arrival of the signal, and the time it's actually calculating for the signal to arrive at the GPS receiver is longer than what it would have been if it was a direct lineof-sight. So as a result, the distance that the GPS receiver is measuring is going to be longer than what was expected.

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Best results in the open

Canopy area High multipath

Open area Low multipath

If you can, collect GPS data in an open sky view location
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Another good way to think about this is the actual positions that the receiver is going to generate. So on the screen here, we have two simple graphs which highlight to us the positions that are logged at a known location. On the left-hand side, we're looking at the canopy area. This is where the GPS receiver perhaps is sitting in a tough environment. Maybe it's near some trees or even under the tree canopy directly, and it's got a high multipath environment. A number of the signals are being bounced off the trees or off the buildings and, as a result, the GPS receiver is generating these positions that vary greatly in their particular location.

As you can see in the graph, the positions are very well spread out and not very precise. On the right side, we've got a GPS receiver that is sitting in an open area, where it's measuring a lot of line-of-sight signals and, as a result, the GPS positions that are being generated are very consistent and the data is very, very precise. So the key message here is that if you can, look to collect your GPS data in an open sky-view environment. This is definitely going to provide you with the most precise and accurate data. And if you are looking in canopy areas, then you're going to need to understand the impact of the multipath on the end positions you're going to get.

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As you'll see in the next couple of questions we're going to address, some of the ways to mitigate against that.

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Review and Q & A
To maximize GPS accuracy:
Use a professional GPS device Operate during good constellation periods Avoid obstacles and dense canopy

Photo of Presenters

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So we've been covering a lot of different content in this section, so we're just going to split it up here and quickly review this, and then jump into some more questions and answers.

So to maximize your GPS accuracy, some of the key messages for today are: Definitely look to use a professional GPS device; if you can, operate during good constellation periods and analyze when the best time is to go in the field; and look to avoid obstacles and dense canopy that can have a big impact on the quality of the GPS signals that the receiver is working with.

I'm just going to hand over the Shane, who is going to work through some of the questions that you've been sending in.

Thank you, Myles. Our first questions comes from Ken in Parma who asks, is WAAS— the Wide Area Augmentation System a type of differential correction? And yes, it is. WAAS fits into the family of satellite-based augmentation systems or SBAS, and WAAS is the North American system. There are other systems in different parts of the world, such as the EGNOS in Europe.

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There have been a number of questions on PDOP and how to use PDOP, so let's go through some of those. The first question is from Brandon in Minnetonka who asks, “How are you able to control the PDOP?” In one sense, you can't, because PDOP is a function of the current position of the satellites, and the arrangements of those satellites. But in another sense, you can control it, because you can choose the optimum time to go into the field when you have the optimum arrangement and number of satellites available. Secondly, you can also try and minimize the interference or the blocking of any satellite signals, from buildings or obstructions, as Myles has discussed. So the goal that you always want to aim for is to have as many satellites as possible that are viewable, and choose the optimum time of the day when the arrangement of these satellites is optimum.

Another question is from Jan in Puerto Rico who asks whether only professional units give DOP readings. And in most cases, most consumer recreational-grade receivers do give PDOP readings. It may not be as obvious as in professional-grade receivers. Even though these consumer-grade receivers may not display the PDOP, if you are using mobile GIS software, in most cases, the GPS engine or receiver actually reports the PDOP to the mobile GIS software, along with all the other GPS information, and the mobile GIS software is able to report that PDOP value.

Arthur in London asks whether the number of satellites available affects a PDOP value. Again, this is a yes-and-no answer to this question. You do need a minimum number of satellites; ideally, you need a minimum of four satellites for an optimum arrangement of your satellites, and the more satellites you have available, the greater the probability that you'll have an optimum arrangement of satellites for low PDOP values. But there does come a point when having additional satellites does not necessarily decrease the PDOP value.

Next question is from Heather in Jasper who asks, “How accurate is the accuracy value provided by a consumer GPS unit? If it says the accuracy is three meters, is it actually

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three meters, or is it worse than that?” The answer to this question is that whenever a GPS receiver reports accuracy, it's an estimated accuracy. GPS receivers ultimately are estimating the accuracy and some receivers have better algorithms than others. If your consumer-grade receiver is reporting an accuracy of three meters, it is most probably connecting to some differential correction source such as WAAS. It may be three meters, it may be better, it may be worse. But don't put a lot of value on the reported accuracy of any GPS receiver. You need to test it and verify that that, indeed, is the accuracy that the receiver delivers.

Our last question from this section also comes from Heather in Jasper who asks, “How accurate can you expect the elevation provided by a recreational-grade GPS unit in mountainous terrain?” And essentially this question relates to all GPS receivers. What accuracy can you expect in elevational z-values? The general rule of thumb is that your elevation accuracy is about two to three times worse than your horizontal accuracy. So, for example, if your GPS receiver is giving you an accuracy of about a meter, you can expect an accuracy in the z-values or elevation of anywhere between two and three meters. And this is true, whether you're using a recreational-grade receiver or a professional-grade receiver, and in any environment that you're working in.

So those are all the questions we'll answer at this point. Over to Myles for the last section.

Thanks, Shane. So there were some great questions coming in there, and we've got one more section we're going to cover here in the presentation. So we'll have some time at the end to answer as many questions as possible, so this is your opportunity to keep sending those questions in and we'll do our best to answer those at the end of our session today.

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4. What are the best collection methods?
GPS is also an art form
Training is critical to maximizing accuracy Field staff are modeling the real world

Maximize accuracy by:
Averaging GPS positions Applying distance and bearing offsets Using a range pole and tripod

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So let's continue on with maximizing our GPS accuracy for our GIS data collection. And the fourth question that we often try our best to answer is: What are the best collection methods when working with the GPS? I think you've just seen today that GPS is not only just a science, but it's also definitely an art form in how you use your mobile GIS tools to accurately capture spatial information. A big part of this is training. So the training is definitely critical for your field teams to help them understand the best techniques for maximizing their accuracy. And the way to think about this is, if you're looking to really collect accurate spatial data in the field, those field staff are modeling the real world. They're making decisions when they're using the GPS on how they're actually going to collect a piece of information that's going to represent perhaps a tree, maybe it's a hydrant, maybe it's a path, perhaps it's a curved path. These are all different types of features that you have in the real world. The person who is going to actually capture these is effectively modeling them in the real world. So you need to train them in the best techniques.

You can maximize the accuracy when you're using the GPS by using three simple techniques. You can look to average the GPS positions, you can look to apply distance and bearing offsets, you can look to use a range pole or a tripod in certain situations.

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Average GPS positions
Averaging is a mitigation technique Provides redundancy in the final coordinate Minimizes risk of using a single multipath position Ideal under canopy conditions
Actual position


Initial GPS position GPS average

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What we're going to do here is step through each of these techniques and provide you with some more detail. Throughout the presentation we've referred to averaging GPS positions on a number of occasions. Averaging—you can think of it as really a mitigation technique. It helps provide some redundancy in the final coordinate that you're going to use as part of the geometry of your GIS feature. What it does is, it helps minimize the risk of using a single, multipath position when you're using the GPS. So the way to think of this is that, if you were to go to the field with your GPS receiver and you were to capture just a single position and use that position, if you're in an open-sky view environment, then it's highly likely that's going to be a reasonably good and accurate position, especially if you're using a professional GPS device.

However, if you were to do this in more of a tough environment, say, next to some buildings or around some vegetation, then there is a chance that that position is going to be a multipath position. And so what we want to do is look to provide some averaging, or collect a numerous number of positions and use them to build up a final location.

So if you look at the graphic on the screen here, we've got a little icon showing the guy with his device and his actual position. We've then got him retrained over here to an

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initial GPS position. In this case, it was a multipath position and you can see it's quite a wee way away from our actual position. Then what we've done is, over time, collected a few more positions (the black triangles), and then we've created the average, which is our final GPS position—the red cross. And you can see the location of this has ended up being much closer to our actual position. This is just a graphic that highlights why we want to average some of the GPS positions in the field.

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Averaging improves accuracy

Averaging improves redundancy and reduces impact of multipath measurements
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Another way to think about this, or to look at it, is based on the impact of averaging on the actual accuracy. So we have a simple graph here showing the difference between working in an open environment and in a canopy environment. And in this case here, we've actually used the GPS receiver and we've logged the location and you can see that we're showing to you the occupation time or the time that we've spent at a particular location, and the accuracy we're getting over that time.

You can see in an open environment, because the satellite constellation is reasonably consistent and the GPS receiver is a pretty good GPS receiver, we're getting accuracies in the range of about 40 centimeters. It's consistent throughout the occupation time. What this tells us is that there's no real benefit to averaging when you're in this open environment. Perhaps it may be only worth capturing one, two, or even three positions just to provide some minimal redundancy. However, if you're working in a canopy environment—perhaps it's under a forest situation—you can see that, in this particular scenario, averaging provides us with some improvement in the accuracy.

There is definitely a trade-off between how much time you're going to occupy and the improvement in the actual accuracy you're going to get. So the key message here is

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that averaging can improve not only the redundancy, but also reduces the impact of the multipath measurements on your final location.

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Applying offsets
Bearing and distance for points/vertices


Calculate bearing

Measure distance Average GPS positions

GIS feature location

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Another big part of your GPS workflow in the field is to consider where you can actually collect information using the GPS. As we've seen previously, you can get into a lot of situations where the signals are being blocked or obstructed. These are situations that we would like to avoid if possible. So if we're looking to capture a tree or some other asset that's located next to a large object; in this case, we've got a little icon showing a tunnel—clearly, we're not going to be able to stand right next to that and view all of the satellites and the constellation above us—what we want to do is actually use a bearing and distance offset. We do this by using a laser range finder and locating ourselves away from that particular feature. So if we're in a park, for example, then we'd want to stay in the best open location possible and use our laser range finder and our GPS to first collect the average of our GPS positions, and then to shoot the distance and the bearing from our current location to the particular feature that we're trying to map.

We do this by using our laser range finder which will provide to us the distance measurement and the bearing. Much of our software has been designed to integrate tightly with the laser range finders, so it makes this workflow extremely easy for your field-worker.

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Applying offsets
Right or left with distance for lines/polygons

Left offset, distance: 5 m

Right offset, distance: 5 m

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You can also apply offsets when you're trying to locate line or polygon features. For example, if you're looking to map the outside of our park again, and perhaps there's a fence around the park and a number of trees up against the fence, you're not going to be able to walk on top of or underneath that fence. So what you're going to do, is look to walk either on the inside or the outside of it in a consistent direction, and then apply an offset either to the left or to the right, depending on which side you're on.

You can also do this for line features. Perhaps you're trying to map a pathway and that path has been covered by a row of trees, or perhaps you're trying to map the riverbed or a stream bed. Of course it doesn't make sense to be walking down the middle of it, so you're going to walk next to it and apply a simple offset, either to the left or to the right.

So those are some simple techniques to help you work with the GPS and maximize the accuracy to be able to work in the best environments to log the most accurate GPS positions and still be able to capture the final location of that GIS feature.

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Using a range pole

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Another technique to consider is actually to use a range pole or a tripod. So a number of the different types of features that we like to collect as part of our operational layers can be either very small features or features that are underground, or something that we need to really accurately understand the location of. Perhaps it's some underground cabling or wiring. We want to ensure if anyone else is going to dig into the ground that they're not going to cut this wire or cable with a spade or a shovel. So in this scenario, one of the best things you can do is to use a range pole, which allows you to occupy that location for a longer period of time and also ensure that the actual antenna of the GPS receiver is directly over the feature.

One thing you'll find is that, when you deploy your field teams, sometimes they can capture information using the GPS but make mistakes in the actual physical technique they use. Perhaps they hold the antenna up and the device off to the left. Maybe it's a meter away from the feature. This can have a huge impact on the end accuracy you're going to get. This is where a range pole really helps you mitigate that situation.

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5. Do I need to post-process GPS data?
Helps guarantee accuracy
Apply differential corrections in the office Doesn’t rely on a satellite or wireless connection Provides best accuracy possible for your data

1. 2. 3. 4.
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GPS measurements logged on handheld Corrections logged at reference station Downloaded to desktop or server machine GPS data post-processed differentially

The fifth and final question for today is: Do I need to post-process my GPS data? This is a good question. It depends on what your use case is. Clearly, if you're looking to just navigate to features within your map, then the real-time GPS provides the best solution. It's giving you the best accuracy in the field, and you're trying to perform a task on demand. However, if you're looking to collect GPS information to model your GIS features, then the real-time clearly provides a great solution when you're in the field. But you can be in situations where you're not able to actually collect those corrections. Perhaps you can't access the radio signal that's broadcasting the corrections, or maybe you're working in a tough environment where you can't actually access the Wide Area Augmentation System’s satellites that are broadcasting the corrections.

In this case, if you're looking to guarantee the accuracy of your data, then you're going to want to look to apply some form of post-processing technique to that GPS. The GPS post-processing relies heavily on being able to log the GPS measurements with the device in the mobile GIS software itself, being able to also access those corrections that are being measured at the reference station, and then bring them together at your desktop or server machine and be able to perform the processing after the fact.

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One of the great things here is, it doesn't necessarily rely on the satellite or wireless connection in the field, and it does provide you with the best possible accuracy when you're looking to manage and manipulate your GPS data.

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Test your environmental conditions
Run GPS tests to analyze accuracy
Target your environment Find a representative location Survey known locations

Static analysis
Occupy a known location for 72 hours Log all GPS positions every second Analyze using HRMS statistics

Line analysis
Walk or drive a known line Log all GPS positions every second Analyze line length and cross-line error
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One final point before we get onto our next and final review, is that a lot of things that we've discussed today are about techniques on how to maximize your GPS accuracy. One of the things that, from our experience, we always recommend, is that if you have the capabilities, is to definitely look at testing your particular environment.

If you can, look to run your own specific GPS tests so that you get familiar with how the GPS devices work and how they actually perform within your particular environment, especially if you're going to work in a tough, canopy environment, maybe in a forest scenario or under dense vegetation. So definitely target your own environment, look to find a representative location or a known location that you can survey where you can set up your GPS receiver to collect positions and perform some simple analysis.

You can really do this in two ways. The first and most common way is to do a static analysis where you're going to occupy a particular location with your GPS receiver, perhaps on a tripod, for at least 72 hours, and log all of those GPS positions. You can then take all these positions and export them out to a format where you can perform some simple statistical analysis, looking to create measures about the HRMS of those GPS positions. The HRMS value is a good one to use, because a lot of the GPS

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vendors will use this and report that information about their own GPS receivers on their data sheets. So you can use this analysis of your own to compare it to what the vendors are reporting about the GPS devices themselves.

You can also look to do some line analysis. This is a lot more tricky, but it's something that, if you have the time is well worth doing. And that's where you look to walk or drive a known line. You want to log all the GPS positions again for every second, and then analyze this data back in the office, looking to compare the line links that you measured between your particular GPS receiver working in this environment, and the known line link that you've measured using a survey system or some other measuring technique.

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Review and Q & A
Average GPS positions under canopy Apply distance and bearing offsets Use range pole or tripod for high accuracy Post-processing fills gaps in real-time DGPS Test your accuracy in your environment

Photo of Presenters

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Okay, so we're just coming up to our final review here. If you have any questions, please send them in. What we've covered today—we've looked at averaging GPS positions under the canopy; looking to apply distance and bearing offsets; the value of using a range pole or a tripod, and also where post-processing can help fill in some of the gaps where you don't have a real-time differential GPS solution; and, finally, if you have the capabilities, definitely look to test the accuracy of your GPS receivers in your specific environment.

So I'm just going to hand over the Shane here, because we've got a lot of questions coming in, and I'm going to let him answer some of those for you now.

Thank you, Myles. One of the most common questions that a number of people have sent in is illustrated by Lynn Sue in Minnesota who asks, “Where can I find information about where the satellites are located at a given time?” There are many GPS vendors who provide free tools for what is termed mission planning. So the best way is to go to your favorite search engine and enter in "mission planning GPS," and you'll find a list of a number sites that have free software where you can download and run it on your desktop, and determine the optimum time to go out into the field.

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The next question comes from Cindi in Alpine who asks, how does cloud cover, low clouds, fog, et cetera, affect collection accuracy? And the good news is that cloud cover or lack of cloud cover has no real impact on the GPS accuracy. So whether you have clouds or rain, it doesn't impact GPS reception or accuracy at all.

There also have been a number of questions on averaging. Illustrated, for example, by Kevin in Eugene who asks, “How many positions should you collect when averaging positions under forest canopy?” Charles in Minnesota asks, “How do you determine the optimum number of points to average?” And Caitlyn in Little Rock asks, “Is there a minimum number of points one should collect to average in covered areas?” There is no right or wrong answer to this. However, there are a couple of factors that you need to always bear in mind. Firstly, the only way to be sure that you are getting the accuracy that you need is to test a representative environment against known positions and compare that to determine the accuracy.

So first of all, I'd recommend that you go and try a number of different durations of averaging and determine which one works best for you. The other two factors to bear in mind are that there are costs involved, and time is money and so the longer you spend averaging, the less positions you are going to be able to collect in a day, so that's a factor. How many positions do you need to collect in a day? I'm sure most people don't have the time to spend hours sitting in a particular location to report a single GPS position.

The third aspect to consider is that there comes a point when averaging more positions doesn't really gain you a whole bunch in increased accuracy. So, sort of a general rule of thumb that many people use is to average between 20 to 30 positions as a good rule of thumb. Now in some cases, you may need to average more than that, and in some cases averaging, less than that may be sufficient.

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The next question is from Joe in Westminster who asks, “Is it possible to use postprocessing to improve the accuracy of collected elevation values?” And the answer is yes. All differential correction, whether it be a real-time differential correction or postprocessing differential correction, also improves the accuracy of your elevation values.

Talking about elevation values, Andrew in Santa Rosa asks, “How do you know if you're collecting z-values?” And there are two aspects to bear in mind here. Most GPS receivers will report the type of fix—GPS fix—that you're getting. If the GPS is only recording its y-values, it will report it as a 2D fix. If they are calculating z-values, then the GPS receiver will report it as a 3D fix. So first of all, make sure that the GPS receiver is reporting a 3D fix.

The other half of that equation is you need to look at the data format that you're storing your data in. For example, if you're using shapefiles, there are different types of shapefiles. You could have a shapefile that's only defined as a 2D shapefile. So even though your GPS and mobile GIS software may be calculating these z-values, the underlying data format has not been defined to store the z-values. So make sure that your data has been defined as 3D or capable of storing z-values.

Next questions come…there are two similar questions. Adriana in Miami Beach and Rob Roy in Redlands who ask, “How can I avoid multipath in a city?” or “How can I limit multipath impact in a high-canopy area?” The only real way to do this is to use a professional-grade GPS receiver that has built-in technology, both hardware and firmware software to detect and eliminate multipath. And this is one significant reason why professional receivers typically cost a lot more than a consumer-grade receiver. Because they do have additional technology that helps you to detect and eliminate multipath interference.

Our last question comes from Batavia who asks, “If seven satellites are in view, won't all seven be averaged in, or will the GPS choose the best four?” The point to understand here is that in most cases, it’s your mobile GIS software that does the averaging. The

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GPS receiver uses the satellites, however many satellites it's needing and using to calculate a position. It sends these positions to your mobile GIS software and then your mobile GIS software averages the position. So the receiver uses multiple satellites, calculates a single position, and the mobile GIS software collects these positions for however many durations you've asked it to average and then averages from these collected positions.

So that's all the time we've got for questions, and I'm going to hand back to Myles for the wrap-up. Thank you.

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For more information
Web training
Working with ArcPad

Instructor-led training
Building Applications Using the ArcGIS Mobile SDK

Other resources
ESRI Web Help on projection and datum considerations

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Thanks, Shane. So before we go I'd like to point you to a few additional resources. We have available some additional Web training, covering working with ArcPad. This also touches on how ArcPad works directly with the Global Positioning System. We have some newly developed instructor-led training for Building Applications using the ArcGIS Mobile SDK. This has a great section on how to develop your own custom applications that work with the Global Positioning System.

We got some great questions about projections and datums, and so one of the other resources I'd like to point you to is ESRI's Web Help. Within our Web help, we have some great sections and topics covering projections and datums. This is a really good reference for you.

Your comments help us improve our seminars. Please take a moment to complete our survey. Just click the Give Us Feedback link to take the survey. We hope you enjoyed today's seminar. On behalf of ESRI, I'd like to thank you all for attending.

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