Gathering Data in the Field with the Collector for ArcGIS App

When I first started working with GIS, I often wondered, where did all of this spatial data come from? As I progressed through my initial undergrad coursework and internship experiences, the answers quickly revealed themselves. Some of the data is created by someone sitting at a desk. Other data is automatically generated as a subset or byproduct of another dataset. A large amount of data, however, is collected on-site, by people in the field.

When I began my first internship I was doing exactly that. Weather permitting, I would be out in the field collecting data with a high-tech, high-end Trimble GPS.

As many of us know, GIS does not typically have the capability or need to achieve survey-grade accuracy. For this reason, it has become an increasingly popular choice to skip purchasing a $10,000 GPS unit and instead purchase an Android tablet or iPad for $1000 or less. This trend has been on the rise ever since powerful tablets with an acceptable battery life for mobile data collection became an affordable option. Because of this, GIS software companies have developed native Android and iOS apps for mobile spatial data collection. There are several apps out there, including free and open source options. Data collection with these native apps can even be performed on a smart phone.

            Two Options for Mobile Data Collection

This post will focus on ESRI’s Collector for ArcGIS app, as it will tie in with the article I wrote two weeks ago detailing how to create and host a dataset in ArcGIS Online tailored for mobile data collection.

Collector for ArcGIS

The Collector app is available on the Google Play store for Android and the App Store for iOS. After downloading the app, login to your organization’s account just as you would on ArcGIS Online. Any webmaps that exist in your organization’s ArcGIS Online account will be visible in the Collector’s main menu.

Collector for ArcGIS Main Menu

Select and open the map that you wish to collect data in. In this case, the Inventory map that was created in the previous blog post. The Collector’s map interface is relatively simple and its capabilities are intuitive and user friendly. Depending on your device, the layout may be slightly different, but the same functionality is present across all device types. Below is a screenshot of the initial Collector window, with a brief outline of what each button does.

  1.  The maps button will return to the main menu.
  2. The find my location button will use your device’s built in GPS to find your location and display it on the map.
  3. The bookmarks button allows for saving of specific locations / map extents as bookmarks. This eliminates the guesswork if you need to quickly reference or jump between two areas.
  4. If you are collecting more than one type of feature, the Layers tool is useful for turning on and off datasets when one type may not be in use.
  5. The search tool works like a Google Maps search, allowing you to search for and zoom to any location on Earth. It can also be configured to search through attribute values for a feature layer in the map.
  6. The measurement tool allows you to measure distances and areas by drawing temporary lines and polygons on the map.
  7. The basemap tool allows you to select and change the basemap. Available basemaps include Topographic, Imagery (and an option to include labels), OpenStreetMap, ESRI Streets, Terrain, and the USGS National Map, among others. You can also create and load a custom basemap if, for example, you have higher resolution imagery available for your study area.
  8. Clicking on or dragging the plus sign to the left will allow for the creation of new features. Feature templates defined in ArcMap or ArcGIS Online will be visible here for any feature layer that is present in the webmap.

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the tools available in the Collector, you can begin collecting data. Click on or pull the plus sign (point 8) to the left to see templates available for creation. On some versions of the Collector, the location of the feature will automatically be assigned your current location. If this doesn’t automatically begin, you can click the symbol that looks like a person with the find my location target next to it to use your location for the feature. You can also tap any location on the map to set the feature’s location to that point. The Collector also allows you to draw vertices for line and polygon feature layers this way. There is also the capability to “walk” a line or polygon feature, the Collector will drop a verticy at a predefined distance as you walk along a feature until you tell it to stop.

A Feature Collected in the Field

Next, you can begin assigning values to the attributes for that feature. Note that the domain value lists are present for the attributes that you configured to have them. This helps to greatly streamline a collection effort and can cut the time it takes to collect a single feature tremendously. Editing can be done in the field if any mistakes were made, and the progress of the inventory can be seen back at the office in real time as the collection effort occurs in the field.

In the next blog post, I will go further in how to utilize ArcGIS Online’s suite of tools to better represent, share, and understand the data that has been collected.

Creating and Storing Your Data in the Cloud with ArcGIS Online

This post and several posts to follow will detail how to design, host, and implement an effective asset inventory using the ArcGIS for Desktop Suite and ArcGIS Online, in conjunction with the Collector for ArcGIS app (Android, iOS, Windows 10).

Note: In order to utilize the Collector for ArcGIS and publishing ArcGIS Online services from ArcMap, an ArcGIS Online subscription is required. 

Step 1: Creating a Dataset

If you are both designing and utilizing the dataset that will be created through the data collection effort, congratulations, you might already know exactly what you want to collect and how to design your feature classes and attributes. However, if you are developing a GIS solution for someone else, it is important to work closely with that person to identify exactly what information is going to be collected before there are people in the field collecting. It is much easier to make a change to a domain value / max field length before an ArcGIS feature layer is deployed to the cloud.

Fortunately, feature classes have built in quality assurance capabilities and they translate well into ArcGIS Online. These QA measures come in the form of domains. Domains in the ArcGIS for Desktop environment turn standard text attributes into dropdown lists. This is great for preventing varied user data entries (think Yield vs Yield Sign vs Yld).

Domain Definitions

Domain Definitions in an ArcGIS File Geodatabase


Feature Class Attribute Creation, with Domains Assigned

After that, create the feature class that will act as a template for the ArcGIS Online feature layer. Be sure to assign the domains to the appropriate attribute as you are creating attribution for the feature class. You can also define feature templates and symbology now, or after the feature layer is published to ArcGIS Online.

Step 2: Publishing Feature Classes to the Cloud

Add that newly created feature layer into an ArcMap session. As stated above, you can define templates and symbology now or later in the cloud. I opted for the former, because I liked the symbology options that were available in ArcMap.

Publishing a Feature Class with Symbology Loaded into ArcMap

Sign in to your ArcGIS Online account via the File menu, and publish the service using File:Share As:Service (seen above). In the dialog window that appears, select Publish a Service and click next. Name the service, and click continue.

In the service editor that appears next, be sure that the service being published has the Feature Access option checked under Capabilities, as well as at least the Create and Update Operations allowed (seen below). Enter a summary and tags as required, and click the publish button to begin creating an ArcGIS Online Feature Layer.

Configuring a Feature Service to have Add and Edit Capabilities.

Step 3: ArcGIS Online & Beyond

Log in to your ArcGIS Online account from your web browser. From your organization’s home page, click on My Content, this is where your newly published feature layer is being stored. Use the Create: Map menu item to create a new web map to utilize and share the feature layer. The new map will automatically open. Using the Add menu item, search for your newly created feature layer and add it to the map. Be sure to save the map after adding the feature layer.

From here, you can add data and alter symbology and the basemap. The webmap can be public facing or private, and shared via link or embedded into another website via HTML.

An ArcGIS Online Webmap with Fields and Domains Created in ArcGIS Desktop

In the next blog post, I will go into detail about collecting data with the Collector for ArcGIS app for mobile devices.