GIS For Biologists: Tips #20 – #23 How To Set Up And Use A Smart Phone As A GPS To Collect Spatial Data For Biological Research

15 Dec

The Global Positioning System, or GPS for short, is a system of satellites which transmit radio signals that can be used to work out where you are any where in the world. While it has been around for military use for a number of decades, it was only with the introduction of small, cheap, commercially available GPS receivers in the late 1990s and early 2000s that the GPS system became widely used for collecting spatial data for biological research.

This has been a great boost for those interested in all aspects of spatial ecology, but the purchase of a dedicated GPS receiver is still a barrier to the use of GPS for collection of highly accurate spatial data for many undergrad students, doctoral candidates and those interested in contributing to citizen science projects.

In the last few years, though, sensors capable of receiving the signals from the Global Positioning System have become ubiquitous in a wide variety of consumer goods, and particularly in smart phones. This means that, with the right app, the smart phone that most of us already carry in our pockets can be turned into a fully functioning GPS receiver.

However, just because they are easy to install and get running, this doesn’t mean that correctly setting up your chosen app to collect high quality spatial information for use in biological research is necessarily straight forward, and indeed, special care needs to be taken to ensure that you have selected all the appropriate settings both for the app, and for your phone’s internal operating system, before you start use it to collect any biological data.

If you don’t do these checks, then you may well find that any data you collect aren’t of sufficient quality to be used in your research, and that can range from being mildly annoying to totally devastating depending exactly how important your data are to your research.

Luckily, it’s not difficult to ensure that your GPS app and your smart phone are both set up correctly, and the videos in this article will take you through all the steps you need to follow to ensure you get this right.

While an Android phone and the GPS Essentials app (which can be downloaded for free from the Google Play Store by clicking here) are used in these demonstrations, you will need to do similar steps with all similar apps, and smart phones with other operating systems. If, however, you’re using an Android smart phone, then GPS Essenstials is the GPS app we here at GIS In Ecology would recommend.

So without further ado, on to the videos. These will take you all the way from downloading and installing your chosen app, through how to set it up, and then how to use it to start collecting high quality spatial data.

1. GIS For Biologists: Tip #20 – How To Install An App To Turn A Smart Phone Into A GPS Receiver:

2. GIS For Biologists: Tip #21 – How To Record A Waypoint On A Smart Phone Using The GPS Essentials App:

3. GIS For Biologists: Tip #22 – How To Record A Track On A Smart Phone Using The GPS Essentials App:

4. GIS For Biologists: Tip #23 – How To Set Your Smart Phone To Record High Resolution Spatial Data:

If you have any questions or queries about this video, feel free to comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer them.


Dr Colin D. MacLeod,
Founder, GIS In Ecology



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