February 17, 2017
By George Demmy
TerraGo’s roots go back to the time where you could look at maps online, plan routes, etc., but if you wanted to take it with you, you had to print it out. Similarly, special purpose maps and drawings, such as those made by a CAD or GIS system (remember AM/FM?), you had to print them out on large sheets of paper and stack and bind them into a literal, physical map book. And, if you were working in a remote location in support of conflict, humanitarian assistance, emergency response, etc, you had to print out all of the relevant maps in their many, many duplicate copies, load them on a plane, and fly them to the area of interest.
There were different portable electronic mapping systems for navigation and GIS applications back then, but limited commercial devices (e.g., consumer GPS navigation bricks) or custom applications and hardware were too difficult to use by anyone but highly trained professionals. This left people like military professionals, linemen, foresters, pipeline inspectors, emergency responders with their paper forms, clipboards, and stacks of paper maps. TerraGo wrote software to create PDF maps which could be delivered to ruggedized laptops with Adobe Reader extended by plugins to display coordinates, make geospatial markups and measure, replacing their paper forms, clipboards, and stacks of paper maps with an interactive geospatial application – a GIS-lite if you will. We were trying to make the paper disappear. It never will completely disappear and there maybe more than ever, but now there are options for something much more powerful.
Fast forward a decade and a half (oy!) and now, we’re trying to make something else go away: being stuck with mobile location-based apps that are tethered to the internet. Now, don’t get me wrong: apps are cool and the internet is cool, but the requirement that you’re required to be online for it to operate? That’s less cool, and sometimes that’s a deal breaker. Now, for folks who are working on your 802.11ac WiFi network day in and day out, or walking in almost any part of the urbanized world, you’ve got internet, so you wonder, why is connectivity an issue. Well, think of the USDA Foreign Ag Service folks making assessments of crops in Brazil or Cambodia or Malawi. They must tromp miles from the nearest signal to investigate crops to forecast yields, and that means collecting information. Lots of information on different types of crop types, soils, land use practices, etc. What about US Forest Service who are responsible for around a half billion acres of land most of which I would think is signal free. I think that most of the folks who sign up to serve us in the Forest Service getting away from the signal-rich rest of the world at least implicitly in mind. I wonder what fraction of the USG works at least part-time without comms? The disconnected aspect of GeoPDF related technologies is one of the reasons for its remarkable durability. However, the laptops of yesterday have but a fraction of the power to the phones and tablets of today, and laptops are just too clunky for folks on the move (although CDC schelpped some laptops around the Congo to use GeoPDF to help in their study of monkeypox in the Congo).
That’s why we developed TerraGo Edge. It’s for bringing those location-based applications wherever you need to work. And, oh by the way, you can use your GeoPDF maps if you like, and feed the information you collect back to ArcGIS or other GIS system, information collected whenever, wherever, online or off.