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Mobile Data Collection System for i-Tree Available

Advances in web technology have enabled the i-Tree development team to create a web-based data collection system that essentially allows anyone using a newer tablet, smartphone, or other mobile device to collect field data wherever there is an internet connection. The new Mobile Data Collection System (MDCS) relies on a device’s browser and web forms for field data entry. The system is not an “app,” and it has both limitations and advantages.    On the plus side, a growing number of people have their own smartphone, iPad, or Android device that could be used for data collection. Field data are submitted directly from the device in the field to a “cloud” server and later retrieved into a project on a desktop. So crews can focus more time in the field and less time traveling to connect data collection devices directly to a single project computer.

Newer devices work best, as older ones do not always fully support the MDCS’ HTML5 code. In addition, newer smartphones can cache data as long as the browser (webform) is still open after internet connectivity has been lost. Each device and browser behaves differently, so you should test this thoroughly to understand your device’s capabilities and cache storage limitations. You can simulate lost connectivity by putting your phone in airplane mode and then see how long you can continue data collection. Of course, you will eventually need to regain connectivity to submit data.    One potentially significant limitation of the mobile system is that there is no way to back up data in the field. Users must be careful to avoid closing an active browser during data collection, which can cause data loss. To minimize that risk, field data can be submitted to the server throughout the day.

Because device and browser behavior can vary, it’s difficult to predict how a device will actually work in the field. The durability of mobile devices under field conditions may also be a factor, so consultants and others doing extensive data collection may opt to use the mobile system on “ruggedized” devices such as a Panasonic Toughbook or similar devices.
For more information on i-Tree and the MCDS, please visit
Northern Research Station
United States Department of Agriculture
USDA Forest Service


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