OpenDataKit (ODKCollect) and Trimble Catalyst: A potential sea change in smartphone data collection

The Cadasta team utilizes fit-for-purpose approaches to document details of land and resource rights data using smartphones and tablets. For many of our partners the phone’s native GPS is sufficient for their needs, however, pairing a smartphone or tablet with an external antennae can improve the accuracy of the mobile device’s GPS receiver – something that some of our partners require.

The external GPS antennae market is growing. At the moment, there are more than a dozen competitive devices for sale that allow users to enhance the accuracy of the native GPS receiver in a smart phone. Both Cadasta and our partners have worked with a range of external antennas in the field, with varying results. One of the largest manufactures of positioning hardware, Trimble Inc, recently released a new innovative antennae, the Catalyst (you can read more about the technology in this post) that enhances the Android’s position accuracy.

Our team recently field tested the new Trimble Catalyst device for use with the Cadasta platform and our preferred data collection application, OpenDataKit (ODK), with partners in East Africa. Based on our experiences using the device, we came away optimistic in finding a cost effective approach to high accuracy data collection.

What separates the Trimble Catalyst from other external antennas we have used is that the accuracy can be improved based on a subscription model – allowing users to collect sub-meter and even decimeter level data as needed. No longer will customers have to pay thousands for high-end equipment that they only need for a discrete high accuracy data collection activity. The Catalyst can meet the needs of most data collection exercises with the customer paying more or less (or nothing) depending on their changing needs and output requirements. If two meter accuracy is sufficient for your use, then you can use Catalyst for free (aside from the upfront hardware cost, which is comparable to other external antennas). If the user requires sub two meter accuracy, the Catalyst antenna works on a monthly subscription basis, with cost varying based on the level of accuracy required.

However, with the Catalyst having only been recently released, they have proved tough to acquire, and can only be purchased directly from a distributor. Furthermore, in order to adjust your monthly subscription, you need to work directly with a Trimble representative.  As the Catalyst gains more widespread usage we hope it will become easier to purchase – perhaps by ordering directly online, and we’d love to see a way to upgrade / downgrade the subscription via the mobile application.

While our testing of the antennae was limited in scope, we recognize that decimeter and precision level (30 cm and better) data collection is not yet possible outside of parts of Europe and North America. However, we are excited by the possibilities that the antennae offers the land administration community and are optimistic by its blend of flexibility, affordability, and accuracy.

For more details on how to setup a Trimble Catalyst for use with the Cadasta platform and our preferred data collection application, please find our guide here.