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GCN : June 2014
Disconnected from the server or cloud? There's an app for that. A new software program lets the military, rst respond- ers and security personnel share geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) data via mobile devices even with little or no connectivity. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's Geospatial Intelligence Advancement Testbed Mobile Apps Team developed the capability in response to requests from intel- ligence community users, said Benjamin Tuttle, the team leader. "One of the No. 1 things that we hear from people is, 'this has to work disconnected,' whether it's ur- ban search-and-rescue people who are worried that the [cell] towers are going to be down or it's security forces at a special event who are worried that there are going to be so many people that the towers are going to be intermittent in terms of connectivity," Tuttle said. "Everybody wants to know that they're still going to have that [geo- spatial intelligence] and situational awareness that NGA is trying to provide them," he added. Tuttle's team has been testing a couple of options, taking out-of- the-box Android and Apple iOS devices and developing apps that would work on them at all times. "The key thing here is having caches of data --- be that imagery, vectors or points of interest --- all on the device in a format that can be used," he said. "Right now that tends to be a lot of the standard formats that are available --- XYZ tiles, GeoJSON." The Open Geospatial Consortium recently released a new standard called GeoPackage --- ushered in by an inter- agency working group led by the Army Geospatial Center and including NGA. Tuttle hopes the standard will lead to a single format for storing geospatial intelligence data, as well as reducing duplication and storage needs. Meanwhile, NGA is integrating Geo- Package into apps it's been working on, including MapCache, a mobile phone app that provides an interface that lets users navigate a map, set areas of re- sponsibility and build a data cache from sources they choose. Once they have the data on the phone, NGA's Mobile Analytic GEOINT Environment (MAGE) tool comes into play. The app lets users access cached GEOINT on their devices so they can look at vector layers and query the data whether they're connected or not. "It also allows them to make reports back from the eld," Tuttle said. "If they're connected, those reports will immedi- ately submit up to a server to be shared out with anyone else on the team." The reports could be text, voice recordings, photos, videos -- all geo- tagged and time stamped by the device. The app also does location tracking. While connected, it pings users' loca- tions to the server. While disconnected, it will keep tracking that information and store it in the local database that can be submitted back to the server without any interaction from the user when they reconnect. MAGE, which NGA started writing last July, is still a work in progress, Tuttle said. For one thing, it's limited by the storage capacity of the device it's on, which is where the GeoPackage standard will help. "We de nitely do a lot of work with users upfront trying to set expectations about what can and can't be stored within those vol- umes," Tuttle said. "What it really comes down to is trying to build cohesion across the community to say, 'Look, we have this challenge and we can't all choose to store our data in different formats and make people download the same data in three different formats.'" MAGE also lacks peer-to-peer (P2P) communication, relying instead on a client/server relation- ship. The next version of MapCache offers P2P, Tuttle added, but overall P2P is tricky because the method differs among platforms. Apple iOS devices wouldn't be able to communi- cate with Android tablets, for instance. Tuttle and his team are looking at how disconnected app users can share data and processing loads much the same way people use cloud technol- ogy but with an added question: Could you share that via P2P connections on mobile devices that can talk only to one another? For now, the next step is additional testing this summer, Tuttle said. • Offline, but need GEOINT? There's an app for that. BY STEPHANIE KANOWITZ 10 GCN JUNE 2014 • GCN.COM [BrieFing] GeoPackage is a standard from the Open Geospatial Consortium designed to effi- ciently store and transfer geospatial data across a variety of media and formats. The standard, developed and prototyped following a multi-year, open process of requirements testing and public input, is intended to drive widespread adoption of a single simple file format for sharing geographic information on commercial and open-source software applications, on enterprise production platforms as well as on mobile hand-held devices that can be emailed, shared on a USB drive or burned to a DVD. EXPLAINER What is GeoPackage?