Pioneering mobile GIS as part of an open data strategy
A true pioneer in the application of GIS, the British Geological Survey (BGS) has launched four highly innovative GIS-enabled solutions to make its geological data more accessible to a wider audience. Developed using Esri’s ArcGIS platform, these state-of-the-art solutions include a mobile app that has been downloaded over 170,000 times.
The British Geological Survey (BGS) is the longest running national geological survey organisation in the world. Since 1835, it has been sharing its knowledge of the geology of Britain with governments, industries, academics and the general public.
The new iGeology mobile app allows smart phone users to discover the geology literally under their feet and is used by around 1,000 people a day
BGS’s tablet solution combines GIS, camera and GPS technology to show people geological information transposed on the view right in front of them
A web-based map viewer, used by 40,000 visitors a month, provides interactive geological maps, while a range of web services is available for GIS professionals
BGS has been conducting geological surveys and building a national geology record for more than 180 years, so it should come as no surprise to learn that it has amassed vast data assets. It maintains a national geological map of the whole country at 1:50,000 scale and publishes intricate scientific information on everything from Britain’s bedrock, groundwater and earthquake fault lines to boreholes and soil.
The organisation already made much of this data available free of charge via its web site, but wanted to improve access to these and other resources and encourage more people to make use of them. In 2009, it therefore launched ‘OpenGeoscience’ a new strategy to expand the use of its data assets and support the government’s Open Data agenda.
Patrick Bell, Information Systems team leader at BGS explains: “OpenGeoscience was about bringing all our free resources together, making them easier to find and use, and creating new channels for publishing open data in different ways to more people.”
OpenGeoscience was about bringing all our free resources together, making them easier to find and use, and creating new channels for publishing open data in different ways to more people
Patrick Bell – Information Systems team leader at British Geological Survey (BGS)
BGS was one of the first organisations in the country to use Esri geographic information system (GIS) solutions in the mid-1980s. Since this time, it has remained both a loyal Esri UK customer and a true pioneer in the development of innovative GIS solutions. In pursuit of its OpenGeoscience goals, the organisation broke ground in the field of mobile GIS, becoming one of the first organisations in the UK to develop free GIS apps for smart phones.
BGS has developed four GIS-enabled solutions as part of OpenGeoscience, each one designed to deliver BGS data in a convenient format to a different audience:
Web-based map viewers – Anyone can visit OpenGeoscience online to view, pan, zoom and interrogate interactive maps on a range of topics including London’s soil geochemistry, groundwater levels over time and seabed samples. The organisation’s most popular map viewer is ‘Geology of Britain’, which today receives up to 40,000 visitors per month.
Mobile apps for iphone, ipad and android – At the forefront of mobile GIS development, BGS created the iGeology app, which allows people to find their current location using GPS and discover the geology literally under their feet. The app has been downloaded over 170,000 times; it has served up 70 million maps to date; and is used by 1000 people a day.
Web mapping services – For those familiar with GIS, BGS offers several of its data archives as web services that can be integrated into other systems. Third party organisations can take advantage of these services to combine geological data with their own data and gain fresh insight into their land and property assets.
A 3D data viewer – BGS’ newest solution is the augmented reality iGeology 3D for android. Highly innovative, this mobile app utilises the GPS, camera, tilt sensor, compass and motion detector functions on tablets to create a 3D scene of the landscape in which a person is standing – and then layer geological data on top of this scene. As the person moves, the data displayed synchronises with the changing view.
All four of these solutions have been developed using Esri GIS. BGS uses Esri’s ArcGIS Desktop solution to prepare its data and then employs Esri’s ArcGIS Server technology to publish the data to all of the web-based and mobile solutions in a standard, interoperable format.
ArcGIS allows us to give many different people, many different ways to access our geological data, whether they are at home, at work or in the field
Patrick Bell – Information Systems team leader at BGS
The GIS apps and web-based GIS services developed by BGS make it easier for people to discover and use geological data. “ArcGIS allows us to give many different people, many different ways to access our geological data, whether they are at home, at work or in the field,” says Bell.
There has been a substantial increase in the number of people using BGS’ resources, and the organisation is confident that its geological data can now reach a wider demographic. The GIS-based iGeology app and online map viewers mean that people don’t necessarily have to have specialist knowledge and software to be able to view and use geological maps.
BGS anticipates that this increased use of its data resources will bring long term advantages for the whole country. “Ultimately, our hope is that our data will stimulate new commercial projects and businesses that will benefit the economy as a whole,” Bell says.
In addition, the innovative application of GIS, and web services in particular, help BGS to deliver a better quality of service to outside organisations. It used to take several hours for a BGS employee to copy required data sets onto CDs and post them out. Now organisations can access the most up-to-date data straight away by ‘self-serving’ from the Internet.