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          xyHt  | Pangaea Past Issues | Field Notes Past Issues |                                          May 12, 2015—No. 136

Spike: Laser-accurate Measurement with a Mobile Device

It was my intent to move on to other non-mobile-devices-for-data-collection subjects, but I got an opportunity to test drive the new Spike unit and just couldn’t pass it up. Spike, by ikeGPS, is a laser rangefinder that attaches to your smartphone or tablet and allows the user to measure objects up to 200m meters (600 ft.) away with accuracy up to +3%. The tool is finding widespread use in construction, asset and facility management, architecture, advertising and signage, real estate, insurance, and other applications.

After getting a demo at the ikeGPS’s Colorado office, I took a unit back to my office for testing in the field.  Although users can quickly get up and running with Spike, it does take a little time to set-up the unit and learn how to use it effectively. The first step in setup is to download the app and then mount the unit onto your mobile device’s case. Here it is recommended that users dedicate a separate case for Spike. The unit attaches via adhesive strips and is not designed to be repeatedly removed and re-attached. Then the unit is charged, mated via Bluetooth to your mobile device via the app, and the laser aligned—all very simple processes. If you need location data to be captured, then the compass needs to be calibrated: another simple step.

Taking measurements is simple. Standing as perpendicular to the target as possible, the user aims the cross-hair of the screen at the subject, taking care to aim at a solid surface (not a window), and take a picture. Some of the issues users have found with accuracy relate to these two items. The farther the user gets away from the perpendicular, the lower the accuracy. Usually 30 degrees either side of perpendicular yields good accuracy. Taking the shot from an oblique angle (60 degrees degrees either side of perpendicular) is not advised as accuracy is significantly degraded. Similarly, shooting the laser into a window or non-planar surface will yield inaccurate results. According to the folks at ikeGPS, these two mistakes are responsible for the majority of accuracy issues. (When I was younger, I often heard the acronym “RTFM” from IT staff at companies where I worked. RTFM stands for “read the freakin’ manual,” and for best results with Spike, I suggest that users RTFM.)

The next step is to align the object; this is accomplished by tapping the “align” button on the app and then outlining a large rectangle on the target; I used a large window. Then the user moves this outline to the corners of the larger area to be measured. That, in a nutshell, is how the system works. Reports can be saved as PDFs, KMZs, and as Spike XML files. Android users can additionally save in HTML and JPG formats.

I found Spike fun and easy to use. Combine its ease of use and relatively low cost ($499 MSRP) with its precision measuring capability and you have a powerful tool for a wide range of measuring applications. Surveyors looking to expand and/or augment their service offerings would do well to investigate this cool tool.
Until next time,

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