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Blackburn cleans up with the help of spirit
Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council teams up with Spirit Data Capture to upgrade its handheld devicesWhen collecting important data in the field, it’s often the little things that are important – such as a rugged device with a readable screen and a good battery life. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council recently needed to upgrade its handheld devices to capture environmental cleanliness data. It sought advice from Spirit Data Capture, which recommended the M3 from M3 Mobile.
Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council is a Unitary Authority based in Lancashire.The council is responsible for a mixture of urban and rural areas – with a total of 60,000 residences and 140,000 residents.
The authority works in close partnership with Keep Britain Tidy, an environmental charity that spearheads England’s nationwide anti-litter campaign. An important part of its work is NI 195 – an initiative developed to provide a National Indicator for Cleanliness. This aims to improve the levels of street and environmental cleanliness in England.
To monitor cleanliness levels effectively, the Borough Council needed an accurate and reliable method of capturing data. Its existing handheld devices had a limited capability and couldn’t cope with the demands of NI 195 as well as District Local Environmental Quality data changes.
ICT Systems Technician, Louise Kidney, explains: “The units’ screens were large, but their visibility in sunlight was non-existent and their battery life was getting worse. There was no in-built GPS, so the devices couldn’t consistently send connection requests any more. This prompted us to start looking at other options.
“The most important requirement was a battery life of more than six hours, as our surveys often last for about eight hours. Screen visibility was also vital, as the operators use the devices in both full sunlight and low cloud cover. The unit needed to be light, with a good ergonomic design, and very rugged.
“Some of our other criteria included in-built GPS and USB connectivity. The devices needed to be within our budget. If the costs weren’t too prohibitive, we also wanted 3G capabilities (to future-proof the devices for mobile working across the borough) and an in-built camera.”
Keep Britain Tidy works closely with Spirit Data Capture Limited, an independent consultancy specialising in mobile computing and data capture solutions. The organisation suggested that the Borough Council should contact Spirit for advice on the possible options.
Louise continues: “We asked Spirit to show us a range of rugged mobile solutions. Spirit’s sales representative was brilliant and brought three different options. This enabled us to make an assessment for ourselves, based on our requirements. In the end, we spent £1,500 less than we had anticipated!”
The model chosen was the M3 from M3 Mobile – a light, very rugged and slim Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). It has very fast processing speeds and is GPS-enabled. It comes with a range of options, including an 802.11b/g (WLAN) radio, GSM/GPRS; Bluetooth radio; and a colour camera. It has a large, easily visible colour TFT-LCD touch screen display and a long lasting, removable and rechargeable lithium polymer battery.
Louise reports: “We really like the M3. It has good screen visibility, and the surveyors are able to control brightness and contrast. The GPS locks on quickly and the camera enables the operators to help other service areas while they are surveying, by reporting problems and emailing pictorial evidence. We also like its 3G capability. It’s very intuitive, because it mimics the desktop Windows operating system.”
The M3s are used for surveying transects three times a year for the NI 195 programme. Each transect is a 50 metre stretch of road or grass, and a total of 300 transects across five wards are surveyed each time. This takes two to three weeks, with two people carrying out the survey.
Keep Britain Tidy’s specialist software was loaded onto the new devices, enabling the Borough Council to collect the data needed for the National Indicator programme. The surveyors complete a form on the M3 for each transect, noting the location of the transect and its GPS co-ordinates, and grading it for litter, detritus, fly posting and graffiti.
Ease of use
Louise continues: “The surveyors are very happy with the M3s. They can see the screens properly, so they don’t accidentally miss the entry data. The tapping interface for text is easy to use and very responsive, so they now enter data that they didn’t before. This makes it easier for me to process the data and get something useful from it. Overall, the ease of use and responsiveness of the M3 has reduced the amount of time it takes to survey a transect.”
She concludes: “Spirit have been very helpful throughout. Their after-sales support is excellent as well. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council prides itself on quality of service. It’s good to find this in our suppliers as well, so we would definitely consider using Spirit again.”