Enhancing GIS with Augmented Reality

Addressing with Augmented RealityThe other day at work we visited with our police records office to learn more about their reporting software. One of the issues that came up in our discussion was inputting the “address” of incidents. The software they use relies on either point addresses or address ranges along a centerline – both common methods of address locating in a GIS. The problem with using these methods for locating typical incidents handled by the police is that incidents are not always tied to a specific address. Instead, particularly for traffic stops, police put down block numbers of a specific street on their reports. And many times, just finding the block number in the field can be a challenge. Houses numbers might not be legible or present, or in our case, addresses in one block can range from 300 to 1500 then back down to 400.

Initially they discussed using the nearest address that can be seen, but the problem with this is the incident is then tied to that address when it really isn’t. It might have been a speeding ticket that was stopped right outside the address, but that incident really doesn’t have anything to do with that specific property. The other problem is the nearest address that can be found might be quite a distance away. One other solution discussed was to just use 100, 200, etc. as the address. Normally this works to at least place the incident in the correct block, although it might be a problem if you have addressing like ours where the address ranges go up and down in one block. The other problem with using a number like 100 is that along our borders, we might not have jurisdiction over the “even” side of the street. So putting in 100 codes the call to the other jurisdiction. To get around this, the records clerks have to put in 101 so it codes to the correct agency.

We wondered why the software company, that makes this software for this purpose, doesn’t realize the needs of their clients and offer an alternative method of inputting addresses. If the records staff had a choice of inputting incidents by block and jurisdiction, the point could be placed in the correct location. This would at least take care of the problem in the office of coding the call. But what about in the field? One idea we thought of was using augmented reality to place virtual address numbers along the block. Police or other emergency personnel could view these by simply wearing glasses that pick up AR objects. This seems like a great use for AR technology to help our police staff have better and faster access to addresses when generating reports. And can you imagine how helpful this would be to an ambulance driver who is on an emergency call to a specific address? We could make the numbers as big as possible and place them along the curb so they stand out for the driver. And perhaps there could be some method of tying the emergency call to the AR object so it flashes red or some other color.


Augmented Reality for Public Works

Construction siteAugmented reality (AR) has been gaining ground over the last couple years—most likely as a result of an increasing number of applications incorporating AR and an increase in the capabilities of supporting technology. But while the advances have been useful and impressive, I have not seen much related to the public works industry. This surprises me because AR could be incredibly useful and could increase efficiencies and decrease costs. So I thought I would post a few ideas of ways in which AR could be applied to the public works field with the hope that someone takes up the challenge and implements these tools:

Utility Locates:
Utility locating can be a pain, but it is important to prevent damage to the utility or injury to people working near the utility. Current tools of the locating trade can include a map on a laptop or on paper, locating devices for accurately pinpointing the utility location, shovels, picks, probes, and paint or flags for marking the location in the field. The reason this task is so challenging is the need to rely on maps that many times are not accurate enough to allow the locator to just walk right up to the utility.

For example, a locator might have trouble finding a water shut off valve in someone’s yard if it is buried under snow or dirt. If there are accurate measurements to the valve, the locator uses a measuring tape and map to find the general location of the valve. And if there are not accurate measurements, which is often the case, the locator would have to randomly search the area with the locating device. Once a probable position is determined, the locator digs for the valve with a shovel. This can result in multiple holes being dug before the valve is found. If other utilities are in the area, readings can be inaccurate which makes finding the valve even harder. The whole process can be very time consuming.

Some cities have their valves in a GIS allowing the locator to walk to the approximate location with the help of a GPS device. This is very useful, but how much better and more intuitive would it be if the valve could be projected digitally onto the ground using augmented reality. The locator drives up to the site, gets out of the vehicle and puts on a headset or uses a mobile device, and all the utilities show up on the ground through the use of augmented reality.

Engineering Design:
Using this same idea, engineering design could be greatly simplified. If an engineer needs to improve a road by installing curb and gutter and a new storm sewer, maps must be collected and utilities marked in the field to designate locations of gas, electric, water, etc. Only then can the engineer determine the best place to put the curb and sewer. If all an engineer had to do was drive out to the job and use augmented reality, the best locations for the new improvements could be determined faster with more accuracy.

Engineers could also use this if a resident calls with a problem. Many times, when we respond to residents, we do not know exactly what the problem really is until we get to the site. So we might not have everything we need to determine if we can help with the problem. But if the resident had a question or problem related to a utility such as needing to tap onto our sewer or water or if they had a drainage problem and needed to tap into our storm sewer, I could not only determine right away if there was a feasible solution, but I could also show the resident by having them use the technology. Seeing the line on the ground would mean more to them than looking at a line on a map. And how much better it would be for them if we could animate the line somehow showing water flowing.

Maintenance and Construction:
Augmented reality could also be used to make sure crews are working on the right asset in the field. If we could digitally mark the manhole that needs to be fixed or the tree needing to be pruned, or the area in which I want landscaping planted, we could reduce confusion or errors in the field.

And if a contractor is installing a pipe, he could use augmented reality to see where he needs to dig. This could also assist the city in showing property owners where improvements will be made. Residents could use AR technology and actually see how the new road will look.

I could have also used AR when I was putting up the trim at my last house. This would have prevented me from drilling into a pipe or it could have helped me find the studs.

There are a lot of other uses we could figure out to help us better perform our job in public works. Hopefully this post helps generate some more ideas and maybe even challenge someone to develop an AR for public works tool.


Virtual Cemeteries

Managing a public cemetery is just one of the many tasks handled by a public works department. Typically we take care of cutting grass, repairing monuments, paving/plowing roads, removing leaves, burying people, selling lots, and handling the documentation and requests for grave locations. Little has changed over the years in how these duties are administered. But now, new tools like mobile devices, virtual worlds, and augmented reality offer us the ability to enhance delivery of some of these services.

Augmented reality (AR), or overlaying a computer generated image onto the real environment, is now available with the use of a mobile device like the iPhone. So how can this be used in the cemetery?

First let’s see how the City of Manor, Texas, used AR to created a Christmas greeting with the help of Muzar.org: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cityofmanor/4203935446/

Applying this concept to cemeteries, cities could contract with organizations like muzar.org to allow people to post digital content for their loved ones grave site. This content could be images of the loved one or family or even the home in which they lived. As a genealogist, I could also see the benefit of displaying documents related to the person’s life. Perhaps eventually people would be offered the chance to save this digital information for their own family history files.

At some point perhaps AR could also allow us to input a loved ones name while standing in the cemetery and have a virtual path displayed on the ground leading us to the grave. This technology could also allow the city to arrange for unsold lots to display a certain color when a person scans the cemetery with a mobile device.

The city of Manor is also using QR codes – here is an example of their use in a city park: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cityofmanor/2780890639/. Cities could use these codes in the cemetery to convey information. The codes could be placed on or near the graves or on maps printed out from a city Website or distributed at the cemetery. Then visitors to the cemetery could access the code once they are in the cemetery. These codes could link to information posted by the family, to information held by the city about that gravesite, or even at some point to information about the person on sites like Ancestry.com.

Finally something I have not yet seen but wonder at its application is the use of virtual worlds. If a cemetery was recreated in a 3-D application such as Second Life, a person could virtually visit the cemetery. This technology also allows for people to attach information, images, and video. I also wonder if someday we will be able to link our avatar’s movements to our own. Then while standing in the real cemetery we could access the virtual cemetery on our mobile device and walk our avatar to the virtual grave while we walk to the real one. This would allow us to experience whatever was placed at the virtual grave while we are standing at the real grave.

As an add-on: @RogerSmolski passed along a link to an interesting post about the use of QR codes in cemeteries in Japan: QR Code from The Grave

Also I am trying to add at the end of each post a disclaimer indicating that the opinions expressed here are my own and are not meant in any way to reflect those of my employer.