Oct. 27, 2011
Public Affairs Office
VICKSBURG, Miss. — ERDC researchers have created a faster, more efficient way for collecting and managing field data using one of the most common technologies in today's market — Smartphones. Using the Mobile Information Collection Application (MICA) software, data can be captured digitally, saving hours of writing forms and inputting data into spread sheets.
Thanks to the progression of technology, today's phones do much more than make calls — most come equipped with cameras, global positioning system, compasses, WiFi and computer processing. ERDC researchers began investigating the use of Smartphones as data collection devices in 2009, in hopes of harnessing that "all-in-one" aspect for an efficient and cost-effective collection method. The technology was being used as an Operation Blue Roof Field Management System following natural disasters when the need for the MICA format arose.
"In late May, we received a call from a fellow ERDC employee who observed teams reporting field images and notes that were 24–36 hours old in daily briefings while assigned to Mississippi River flood duty with the Corps' Memphis District. He asked us if there was a better way," said Robert Walker, computer scientist for ERDC-ITL. "Within 48 hours, we had a version of MICA ready to go for flood fighting."
Fifty Android phones installed with MICA software were deployed to seven flood-affected cities, resulting in more than 12,000 pictures, videos and notes that were transmitted from the field directly to command centers along with the latitude and longitude for each piece of information, allowing the critical data to be reviewed immediately. The historic flood data covered everything from sand boils to homeowners digging next to levees and is now safely stored on ERDC's servers to be reviewed in the future if needed.
The technology eliminates the need for field personnel to return to computers during or at the end of a long day to type and organize field notes, a previously necessary precursor to the decision-making process. It also eliminates the need to carry a backpack full of equipment—everything needed for collection can be found on the phone.
"If someone in the field sees something they need to report back, they pull out their phone, open the MICA software and begin collecting data," said Walker. "Once the data has been captured, they hit the sync button and it is sent instantly. MICA provides a new capability that field personnel have never had before."
Though many were initially wary of the introduction of a new technology in the midst of the crisis, Walker said, they were welcomed with open arms after demonstrating what the technology can do. Commander of the Corps' Omaha District Col. Robert Ruch called MICA a great application.
"It helps us know what's been done on the ground, it helps us when we see a boil or something similar to get people and resources to the right place," said Ruch. "It's a great application and great work by the folks at ERDC."
Looking ahead, ERDC researchers plan to expand MICA's use beyond flood fighting efforts. Because the software can be customized with a variety of categories, including recreational area inspection, slope failure and debris clean-up—a subject area that is currently being tested in Joplin, Mo.—possibilities are endless. ERDC is also working on a suite of complimentary Smartphone applications for use with iPhones, iPads and Android tablets.
"We took an ERDC technology and joined the fight, helping commanders make decisions to keep citizens safe, and we've proven to Emergency Operations teams around the country that MICA would be a great asset to their mission," said Walker. "We hope now to make this product available worldwide to our districts and to our Soldiers."