Remember that the reason we used iDraw for scaled drawings at PARP:PS is because the trench supervisors were used to that workflow. They have the skills to make good scaled drawings and they do them rather quickly. We didn’t want to introduce too much change all at once. Having them conquer vector drawing and learn how to draw with their fingers on a tablet was enough.

But it wasn’t the most efficient workflow. It still involved moving data from the tablet to the CAD environment and vice versa. What we really want to do is to have the tablet drawing directly to the spatial environment. If we can get both the total station speaking to the iPad and a true CAD environment, that would be close to ideal.

We are making baby steps. Autodesk came out with AutoCAD WS. We have loaded our CAD drawings from this past summer to the AutoCAD website and are evaluating the use of this software for the next season. AutoCAD WS came out this past fall but only offered online editing. Since we use our iPads offline this was less than useful. But the new version, updated in December 2010, offers offline editing.

We would like for the software to support 3D but for now are stuck in a 2D drawing environment with AutoCAD WS. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Bad in that we want 3D data, but good in that the trench supervisors would have a much greater learning curve with 3D drawing than with 2D drawing, and we can avoid that for now.

The total station data is another beast. I know that the Athenian Agora uses hand-held computers (Palm pilots, see Richard Anderson’s and Bruce Hartzler’s chapters in The Athenian Agora: New Perspectives on an Ancient Site, ASCSA 2009) to get points directly from their total station but I don’t know of any total station company that is preparing to introduce an iOS (or Android) app for direct communication from the total station to a phone/tablet device.

Even if there was a bluetooth capable total station there isn’t necessarily a path to a visual display of the data. The old way of doing this was to have ArcGIS Mobile (or ArcPad) running on a Windows Mobile device (up to version 6.5) or on a Windows tablet with software provided by the total station or GPS manufacturer (such as Trimble Pathfinder and/or GPSCorrect). So half of the solution was created by ESRI and the other half by the total station company.

Hopefully with the new tablet technology this kind of software architecture can be made to work again. ESRI does have an ArcGIS app for the iOS and Windows Phone 7 (with Android support promised later this year). The ArcGIS app will allow rudimentary data collection, but it is limited to adding points either by sight or by the phone’s GPS signal. There is no way to import points or to draw polylines or polygons.

Let’s hope that ESRI or Autodesk does step up with an enhanced app with an API that will allow total station manufacturers the ability to use it for importing and displaying point data. I would pay money for that.