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Working on water

Mobile IT

British Waterways is trialling the use of ruggedised tablets that could revolutionise the way it collates the data vital for maintaining its waterways.

With an historic estate that includes 3,200km of canals and rivers, 4,000 bridges, 2,500 listed structures and 1,000km of hedgerow, the corporation conducts regular user safety and asset inspections so it can schedule required maintenance works. This includes inspections of the thousands of trees that line its waterways.

The tablets are set to mark the end of pen and paper recording of asset inspection on the canal bank, with increased efficiencies allowing more timely preventative maintenance and cost savings.

The technology has been trialled on a survey of the trees that flourish alongside the waterways in the West Midlands.

Traditionally all such data was noted down on paper while travelling along the canal, meaning that a large amount of additional staff time was needed to input the data in a digital format once back in the office. But by using a mobile PC hooked up to an 'off the shelf' GIS software package, it was hoped that the need for office data entry could be eliminated.

Choosing the right type of mobile PC was crucial. 'The software was not hardware specific and several pieces of hardware were looked at before a decision was made, ' says British Waterways engineer Phil White.

'Handhelds and rugged handhelds had too small a screen to easily input the data, even with drop down options.

Reviewing the data before it was saved was limited by the screen.' So White leant towards the larger tablet-style, but found most of them wanting when it came to the site environment.

'Tablets were evaluated but most were found to be delicate and designed for the office environment, ' he says.

'However, the Rugged Tablet was evaluated and the hand writing recognition found to be excellent for written data entry. The large screen allowed information to be easily reviewed.' In the West Midlands trial the Rugged Tablet and the GIS software performed exactly as planned: office data entry was eliminated and the survey was delivered more quickly with higher data quality, allowing more efficient use of time. This equated to a saving of £5,000 - 12.5% of the cost of the survey.

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