Site visits and information management tools

This post complete the information of the previous article on how to plan a site visit for a renewable energy project.

I will try to answer this question: what is the better tool to manage the information obtained on site?

There are several very useful mobile apps that can help us finding the target locations and geolocate the position of all relevant elements of the project (wind turbines, substation, roads, crane pads, etc.).

They can also help us obtaining and storing information in an efficient and organized way.

Although none of these software has been specifically created for the wind business´s needs, they offer very useful features that could make our lives easier during a site visit.

As they are mobile apps, we should make sure we have enough battery and that is why I always recommend bringing a portable charger with you.

Google Earth / Google maps

These two apps are by far the most popular. Anybody who is familiar with the desktop software will rapidly recognize their strengths integrated in a very powerful GUI.

They allow the user to load kml files with very valuable information such WTG positions or road alignments or even connect to maps edited and stored in our personal Google account

I see three main drawbacks here:

  • The basemap loaded in the background is limited to the basic formats: Street, Terrain, Traffic, Satellite, etc. Unfortunately they do not offer the chance to insert our customized maps as a background.
  • The geolocation is based on the device´s built-in GPS, but the background map data is loaded only if network is available – and this could be a big risk in remote areas.
  • They are not really prepared to create and store points of interests with comments and link personal photos taken in the area of study – or at least, not as I would like.

Avenza maps

This app uses the device´s built-in GPS so that the correct positioning does not depend on the availability of the network.

One of the main advantages compared to the traditional GPS mapping apps like “Gaia gps”, “Google Maps” or “Google Earth” is that Avenza maps allows the user to import our own customized maps in different file formats such as geopdf, geotiffs.

These maps can be any kind of project drawings created with GIS tools such as QGIS or ArcMap.

This app can be used for free. With the free version we can download up to a certain number of maps at a time (usually 3). There is also is also Pro version which includes more features and increases the possibilities.

It also includes the option to create a store account. It is not required but is recommended though.

For more information about this tool, I recommend you go directly to the official web.

Maprika

This is a tracking map app used mainly by hiking lovers.

Initially, it looks like a very simple app without any special charm. However, it offers similar functionalities to “Avenza maps” and I personally consider it gives a good service to the actual needs in a site visit.

The main advantages are:

  • We track our routes and the elevation information (longitudinal profiles) is registered as well.
  • The photos taken along the routes are georeferenced and can be visualized over the route.
  • There is the option to add “Places of interest” with comments.
  • We can create our customized maps either by using the app or from the desktop tool called “Maprika map designer”. See below a link with a tutorial explaining how to do it.

As a drawback, we can considerate the lack of confidentiality: any map uploaded containing relevant wind farm information would be available to any user from the server.

Furthermore, it is quite easy to upload a map to the server but deleting is not as straightforward.

Here is the link to the website:https://www.maprika.com/

Road AI from Vaisala (old Vionice)

I leave to the end which, from my point of view, is the most promising from all the apps listed here and, surprisingly, maybe the less popular: Road AI

The first time I heard about this tool was in a Finish project I was involved in.

One of the contractors used to work with it and it ended up being a really nice discover.

Although addressed to cover infrastructure management, it can be “recycled” to work as an information management tool for site visiting. The mobile application provides a dynamic and flexible way to collect, manage and deploy data in a user friendly environment.

The main strengths are:

  • The user can record videos and make photos of the construction site which will directly be stored and available in a cloud service. E.g. We can make videos using a phone holder on the windscreen to record routes and the time and the GPS location will also be saved.
  • Make annotations associated to the audio-visual material recorded on site.
  • View all of the recorded routes and sites together with the annotations and metadata using the map interface available through a normal browser application.
  • We can share this information with anybody inside your organization or with a client.
  • It also allows to use filters and requests to visualize data following a certain criteria with a similar philosophy than in a GIS environment.

Surprisingly, it is difficult to find any reference to this application out from the local Finnish market. Only a few references are found in works at UK.

This is a link to the first of a series of video tutorials explaining the way to use and take most of the system (sorry it is in Finnish):

All in all, the proposals presented here are only a sample among a big offer presented in the market. Any tool with similar properties would work well enough used in a proper way. It is just a matter of personal preference as long as an ad hoc and convincing system is deployed and released into the market. Maybe one day…

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