Fieldwork guide for robots (and humans)

In the future, all our fieldwork will be done by robots while we play around on our hover-boards. In anticipation of this, I have written a program for the robots to follow.  Until that day arrives, it is also a handy checklist for human beings.  It assumes that future robot programming languages will look a lot like English, and pays special attention to notebook layout and how to geotag photos.

def fieldworkPlan():

  • Before you go:
    • makeSureYouHaveTheRightKit()
    • prepareYourKit()
  • For each day in the field:
    • Write the date and the day’s aims in your notebook
    • For each locality visited:
      • dataCollectingRoutine()
    • endOfDayRoutine()
  • postTripRoutine()

def makeSureYouHaveTheRightKit():

  • Notebook
    # I like the Rite in the Rain with Metric Grid.
    # They’re not cheap, but they are really tough and, with a pencil, you can literally write through rain drops.
    # The metric grid pattern is handy for lining up logs, but easily ignored for sketches.
  • Fieldwork gear:
    • Sample bags
    • Marker pen
    • Hand lens
    • Ruler / tape measure
    • Hammer (+ glasses) / spade / trowel
  • Camera
    # I like to have a waterproof/dustproof compact that I don’t need to worry about getting wet or dirty.
    # I decided that built-in GPS was an unnecessary expense.
    # The Panasonic DMC-FT25 is a pretty good example, and not too expensive these days.
    # It lets you take pictures like this in geothermal pools…waterproof_camera
  • GPS (with cable)
    # The most basic Garmin eTrex is ideal, as I only want the GPS for two purposes.
    # (1) To record waypoints at each location I make observations.
    # (2) To record time-stamped track of where I go.
    # I then correlate this with the timestamp of my photos, which lets me geotag (embed the photo’s location into the file).
    # The most important thing is that you can easily get the data onto a computer.
    # You can also use smartphones with software such as MyTracks (on Android) or Strava that can exports tracks as .gpx files.
    # I find this uses the phone’s battery very quickly.
  • Software:
    • gpsbabel
      # This is open source software that reads data from your GPS and can convert it between various formats
    • GpsPrune
      # This is open source software for editing GPS data.
      # We will use it to geotag our photos.
      # To do this, gpsbabel and exiftools also need to be installed.
      # It also lets you view geotagged photos by location.
    • Photo cataloguing software
      # e.g. Shotwell, Picasa, iPhoto.
      # These are very useful because you can browse photos across folders based on their dates.
      # You can also tag photos e.g. ‘notebook’, ‘logged section’.
      # Some allow you to view geotagged photos on a map.
  • Suitable field clothing
    # See my Volcano suit / What to wear in Iceland post.

def prepareYourKit():

  • Notebook
    # Write contact details in the front in case you lose it.
    # Write useful notes for reference in the back, such as grain size definitions for logging or a key for different symbols in logs.
  • Camera
    # Synchronise the clock with your GPS
  • GPS
    # Set the coordinate system to whatever system your maps use.
    # It doesn’t matter if this is something quite rare, because they are all stored as Lat/Lon within the GPS anyway.
  • Software
    # Practice geotagging photos using GPS track timestamps.

def dataCollectingRoutine():

  • Mark GPS waypoint; leave GPS running to record track.
    # I usually take the automatically suggested waypoint number, rather than fiddling with renaming it each time.
  • Prepare outcrop for logging/sampling
  • Take photographs of:
    • General outcrop context
    • Logged/sampled section
    • Features of interest
  • Note the last three digits of each photo’s file name and, if necessary, make a note of what it shows.
  • Record data
    # The following is an example of how I like to lay out my notebook.
    # Make observations before interpretations.


    Example notebook layout. Click to enlarge.

  • Collect samples
    # Write the sample number at least 3 times on the bag
  • Clean up the site
  • Take photographs of the notebook pages that you have just written
    # This not only acts as a backup, but, because the GPS is running and you can geotag them, you can also access them via links on your GIS maps (see below)
  • Switch off GPS

def endOfDayRoutine():

  • Make a note of any thoughts or wider interpretations that you had
  • If you have a laptop in the field:
  • Pack your samples safely
  • Type up spreadsheet(s) with all your localities, samples and measurements.

Other tips

  • Use GpsPrune to geotag the photographs of the logs from your notebooks. Then you can find them quickly by location.
  • You can view them in your QGIS maps using the “Geotag and Import Photos” and “eVis” plugins:

  • You can Easily change coordinate projection systems in Python with pyproj.
  • On Unix-type systems (e.g. Linux, Mac) you can download your photos and GPS data very quickly and without the fuss of a mouse and GUI with two simple terminal commands
    $ cp -urn /media/camera/ ~/Pictures/Iceland2014/
    $ gpsbabel -tw -i garmin -f /dev/ttyUSB0 -o gpx -F ~/Iceland2014/GPS_data/2014-06-05_gpsdata.gpx
Categories: Uncategorized


  1. Dawn says:

    For basalts and other dark rocks, use metallic sharpie (indelible ink) so you can also lable the sample, if needed.

  2. Pingback: Easily plot data on a Google Maps background with the QGIS OpenLayers plugin | Volcan01010

  3. Pingback: Four years of volcan01010: Highlights of 2014 | Volcan01010

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *