An ARDC case study

Field research data digitally captured, organised and analysed saving time and money

Field research data around the globe, from the Blue Mountains in NSW to remote villages in Cameroon, is being digitally captured, organised and analysed thanks to the Field Acquired Information Management Systems (FAIMS) Mobile platform.

Launched in 2012, FAIMS Mobile is a world-class, open-source platform for producing custom electronic notebooks for data collection in diverse field situations. FAIMS was originally funded by Nectar, one of the three NCRIS projects that became ARDC, and has seen continuous improvements for almost 10 years.

Upgrading from paper to mobile

There are a myriad of ways that manual data collection in the field, particularly in remote locations, can go wrong and cause inconsistencies, manual errors and more - leading to hours of additional work ‘cleaning’ the data. FAIMS was developed to address these challenges and simplify field work by adding additional features such as mobile mapping, multimedia management, and the automatic application of identifiers.

When creating the platform, the team quickly understood that every research team wanted something different, so the app was created to be completely customisable for a wide range research and data collection requirements.

Since its launch, FAIMS Mobile has been used:

  • for 64 field data capture workflows
  • in over 40 projects
  • by 100s of researchers who logged 10,000s of hours on the platform.

It has been taken up around the globe, including in Australia, Bulgaria, Cameroon, China, Israel, Malawi, Peru and Turkey and by researchers at Yale, Harvard, Brown, Aarhus, La Trobe, Macquarie, UNSW, New England and Queensland universities. Research fields it has been deployed in include: geosciences, ecology, archaeology, oral history, ethnography, linguistics and citizen science applications.

Since its initial development in 2012, FAIMS has received funding from: Nectar, the Australian Research Council, the NSW Government, several Australian universities and small firms, and ARDC.

Searching for hidden mineral deposits with FAIMS

In Australia, FAIMS is speeding up the mineral resources industry’s hunt for traces of high-value mineral deposits through halving the time required for geochemical sampling.

“80% of Australia is not well explored for mineral resources,” says Dr Jens Klump, Team Leader Geoscience Analytics at CSIRO. “Everything that’s easy to find has been found.”

There could be large high-value mineral deposits waiting to be discovered deeper underground.

However, the chance of finding economic mineral deposits is very small, explains Jens: “Finding them is even more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack.”

As part of the CSIRO Mineral Resources discovery program, Jens and his colleagues work with independent contractors, state geological surveys and the minerals resources industry to sample 100s of 1000s of boreholes and soils, looking for anomalies in the geochemistry that may point to economic deposits of high-value mineral resources that warrant further investigation.

With so much unknown about Australia’s wealth of mineral resources, FAIMS is reducing the time and money spent on water, vegetation and soil sampling, speeding up the quest to find valuable mineral deposits.

“FAIMS has halved the time needed for sampling,” said Jens.

And when sampling involves travelling to hundreds of sampling locations across the Nullarbor Plain in a helicopter, halving the time spent sampling is a huge cost saving.

Saving time and money

Shawn Ross, Cass Venn and Bec Parkes recording historic mining camps at Nellie Glen
Image: Shawn Ross, Cass Venn and Bec Parkes recording historic mining camps at Nellie Glen as part of the Australian Research Council Linkage Grant ‘History, heritage and environmental change in a deindustrialised landscape (LP190100900). Copyright Penny Crook 2020

FAIMS allows data collection offline, automatically synchronising data collected by multiple teams in the field when they can connect to a network, eliminating double-entry, and automating exports, which saves time and reduces errors.

“In the past you had to transcribe handwritten notes into a spreadsheet, then make the association between the image file and location - it was time consuming and manual,” said Dr Jens Klump, Team Leader Geoscience Analytics at CSIRO.

FAIMS has completely changed the way Jens and his colleagues collect samples, ditching the paper for the app and providing richer data sets.

“Another step that saves a lot of time - having the app on the mobile device helps capture a lot of contextual information - who I am, where I am, what project I am working on, the time, and other data points, which reduces the data entry to very few elements.

“In one campaign, we pre-printed sample labels with a QR code that we could then scan in to make the tie between the sample in the paper bag and the electronic record. This halved the time needed for sampling.”


FAIMS 3.0 - flexible, cross-platform and self-serve

Recognising the potential for commercialisation and translation of FAIMS, the ARDC co-invested in the FAIMS 3.0 project, which is re-building FAIMS Mobile to be cross platform (Android, IOS and desktop) and to allow users to customise and rapidly deploy modules themselves through a graphic user interface. An open source FAIMS library will also enable researchers to reuse and adapt applications developed by others.

While FAIMS 3.0 will always have a no-cost pathway for research, there will also be commercial opportunities in the future. The project team participated in the CSIRO ON Prime pre-accelerator program along with a commercialisation program at Macquarie University, which influenced the redesign of the platform focusing on use patterns determined through over 70 interviews with potential users. Archaeology, geoscience and environmental sciences companies, along with the university sector, have already shown interest in the commercial version of FAIMS 3.0.

FAIMS 3.0 beta will be launched for testing at the beginning of 2022, with the final release in 2023. It is being developed with ARDC co-investment, in collaboration with Macquarie University, AARNet, CSIRO, University of New South Wales, La Trobe University, Aarhus University and 12 other local and international institutions.


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