The Army has adopted open standards and a common operating environment to solve challenges associated with disseminating geospatial data to "disadvantaged" troops without access to high-bandwidth networks.

A common operating environment based upon open standards will also allow troops at the lower tactical levels to collect data on their mobile devices and send it back to command posts regardless of the computing platforms deployed, according to Joseph Fontanella, director of the U.S. Army Geospatial Center.

"One of the issues we are interested in is how to move geospatial data to disconnected, intermittent and low-bandwidth environments," Fontanella said.

BONUS: Joseph Fontanella recently shared his experiences in disseminating geospatial data during a C4ISR & Networks webcast. View it on-demand

"Lots of Army and [Department of Defense] handheld applications require map data. So what you end up doing is developing and maintaining duplicate, proprietary map stores for every single application," Fontanella said during a C4ISR & Networks editorial webcast, "Collection and Dissemination of Mobile Data for Disadvantaged Troops."

"You just have a problem with network bandwidth. You don't have the bandwidth at the packet level to stream some pretty heavy data, especially imagery," Fontanella said.

Additionally, continuously streaming maps over tactical networks rapidly drains the battery of mobile devices and puts an extra burden on soldiers. Plus, storage on mobile and handheld devices is limited. Often, troops are not reaching out to a 4G network or applications connected to Web services that have their data, so the mapping data must reside on the device.

"The typical area of operation is going to have thousands of square kilometers of map and imagery data," Fontanella said.

Prior to the introduction of GeoPackage — a specification released by the Open Geospatial Consortium — there was no standard to address the distribution and direct use of Standard Shareable Geospatial Foundation map data on mobile and handheld devices, Fontanella said.

The Army Geospatial Center has developed the Army Geospatial Enterprise (AGE), an integrated system of technologies, standards and processes that provide a comprehensive framework for systematically managing, exploiting and sharing geospatial data, information and services.

The AGE assisted the Nett Warrior Program, the Army's handheld program, with support for reading/writing geopackages based on SQL-like databases. With this move data can be stored once and used by many applications.

The AGE evaluated geopackages from data providers with Nett Warrior. An example is the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's Map of the World with geospatial data providers such as Esri and DigitalGlobe.

As a result, AGE has helped develop specifications for handling multiple imagery products at different scales within a single geopackage, and integrated support into the Nett Warrior system. Fontanella's team also integrated and tested the AGC-built validation tool in order to assess compliance with the Open Geospatial Consortium specification.

The Army can now support content management concept of operations and workflows from the national to tactical levels in disconnected, intermittent, low-bandwidth environments, he said.

The proliferation of smartphones around the world and openness of apps such as Google Maps has made people familiar with geospatial content to a certain degree, said Scott Lee, director of defense and intelligence programs with TerraGo, a developer of mobile applications for collecting and sharing of information.

A disadvantaged user is someone who needs access to geospatial content but may not have the training. "So we have to make sure the apps are easy to use, especially with very tactical content and support for multiple types of missions."

The challenges of network dependency, interoperability, information overload, the need for simplicity and ease-of-use, and support for multiple missions are not specific to the Army. Other organizations face similar challenges, he noted. ■