They also reminded me of similar themes from my "Digital Field
Assistant" concept that TrailScribe grew out of, and I
realized I never shared my write-ups on that from back in 2011.
So to complement the discussion... here's an old presentation that
basically frames the core (TrailScribe) mobile device as part of a
broader "field data system" that includes helmet cams, specialized
sensors like Bluetooth weather gauges, VHF handheld radios, and an
information sharing server in base camp.
Click the gear and "Open speaker notes" to get the full content.
You can think of the TrailScribe concept video
as a down-sized version of this initial vision, focusing on the
low-hanging fruit: What can you do if all you can afford is some
tablet computers and cheap accessories like bluetooth headsets and
TrailScribe is a concept design for how scientists could use tablet
computers as enhanced field notebooks to improve their workflow.
TrailScribe is one piece of the "Digital Field Assistant" concept I
first started talking about in 2011. The idea is to organize field
science data collection and sharing with a combination of phones,
tablets, sensors, laptop servers, and the software to make them work
Youngwook Jung, a very
talented Ph.D. design student from KAIST, worked with me in Fall 2012 to
develop interface wireframes and artwork and produce this video.
TrailScribe tablets have three main uses:
Data collection. A scientist collecting a data set in the field
can define the format of the data records they want to collect,
including timestamps, GPS position, photos, bar codes identifying
sample bags, and voice or touch data entry. TrailScribe can fill
some of these fields automatically and simplifies others. The
objective is to reduce data collection effort and produce a richer
and better organized data set.
Situation awareness. With overnight synchronization through a
laptop server in the field, all members of the science team get
up-to-date access to all the data collected so far, even while they
are offline in the field.
Field safety. By daily sharing of digital traverse plans and
tracking check-ins with an automated roster, the team can keep better
tabs on each other, improving field safety.
Young and I had so many ideas for TrailScribe that it was a real
challenge to focus on just a few so we could produce a short video. One
guiding principle was to look for low-hanging fruit: it's easier to
change workflow than develop software, and it's easier to develop
software than to develop hardware. All of the functionalities
illustrated in the concept video can be implemented with off-the-shelf
Another way of looking at TrailScribe is that it merges the field test
support features we developed on the Exploration Ground Data Systems
Project with our experience supporting field operations using mobile
apps on the NASA GeoCam Project. This
background puts us in a great position to implement the TrailScribe
Going forward, we're looking for a field science operation to
collaborate with on a funding proposal, so we can take this past the
concept design stage.
MapFasten (web app, source on GitHub) is a tool for
aligning an image or PDF with other map layers so you can use it more
The basic idea is that you find matching landmarks in your overlay and
in the underlying map, add tie points to those landmarks, then the
MapFasten solver will find the best alignment that makes the matching
tie points line up. From there you can share the aligned overlay with
your team and view it in other maps.
After a major disaster, the Crisis Response Team generates a Crisis Map,
which is a set of many map layers that provide different kinds of
information to aid responders and citizens in the affected area.
Local organizations often have data that's important to share through a
Crisis Map, but sometimes it comes in the form of a PDF or a scan of a
printed document, so it's hard to combine with other map layers.
The goal of MapFasten is to make it easier for those organizations to
import their images, align them, and publish them in the Google Maps
tiles format, which makes it easy to import the data into a Crisis
Map. Although MapFasten's initial purpose is to support crisis response,
it can be used to align any kind of map image and the result can be
easily added to any map built on the Google Maps API.
After Hurricane Isaac 2012, MapFasten was used to align this map of
the New Orleans levee system
We deployed MapFasten on Google App Engine in late 2012 but it will remain
in closed beta testing until we can devote some time to making it more
scalable and adding simple access controls so each user has their own
sandbox to work in.
Lots of interesting design decisions went into building the app and I
might go into some of them in future posts. In the meantime, if you're
interested in our take on the process of manually aligning maps, you can
check out how our interface works in the tutorial video.