GIS goes mobile

The huge popularity of handheld computers as personal organizers is spurring

many agencies to explore ways to take advantage of this lightweight, highly

portable computing platform. But porting processing-hungry applications

like geographic information systems to handheld devices presents several

challenges for the information technology staff back in the office.

The biggest issues may be managing the devices, maintaining them, keeping

track of inventory and updating software. Fortunately, the increasing popularity

of handhelds has led management tool vendors to add support for them to

their products that are used for managing PCs on a network. "There are a

lot of management tools out there for these devices, managing them the way

we manage desktops and notebooks today," said John Inkley, manager of federal

sales at Palm Inc.

But the payoff for getting this roving army of handheld computers under

control seems worth it. Agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the

Bureau of Land Management are using or testing handhelds to gather data

for GIS applications. The Forest Service is combining the Palm computers

with a Global Positioning System (GPS) application to automatically locate

the person entering wildlife information in the database.

For users who are befuddled by the degrees, hours and minutes of latitude

and longitude of a GPS system, go2 Systems Inc., Irvine, Calif., has developed

an eight-digit location code that is like a ZIP code for GIS systems.

If the system gains acceptance by government agencies, it will provide

a quick and easy way for workers using handheld GIS devices to enter location

data. By entering a city reference and the eight digits, users can pinpoint

locations within 10 meters.

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