As drones, GPS and 3D mapping offer new opportunities and open new markets, there will always be a place for the total station and professional surveyor.
That was the verdict at Topcon’s demonstration day at Queen Victoria Park yesterday (10 November).
Taking pride of place was the Topcon Elite Survey Suite, released in June, which represents the company’s leap towards software, rather than hardware.
The suite has three hardware products, but it is the way they are “fused” by a single software program, hosted on the cloud, which makes it unique, according to Topcon.
The robotic total stations, global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receiver and a FC-5000 field computer (a type of sturdy tablet) all communicate via 4G transmissions.
In a demonstration, Topcon senior trainer for geospatial and construction Mark Billingsley showed how measurements from site can be beamed back to office, and in seconds can be turned into general or specific visualisations.
Topcon said that the single software solution is a first for the industry, but it also boasts the fastest robotic motor total station technology on the market, and the smallest and lightest GNSS rover.
But as the technology advances, what will the increasing accuracy of UAVs undertaking mass data capture mean for the humble surveyor?
“Having been involved in RTK [real time kinematic] in its infancy, I remember the days when you’d look like a ghostbuster because you’d have this huge backpack on,” said Billingsley. “And it’s the same with UAVs, the physical size of them, issues with licencing, the price point – it’s all coming down. I remember the first one we had was about £60,000.”
Billingsley said the key point is that UAVs will be appropriate for certain applications – many, the company has found, are outside the realm of civil engineering – but there will always be a deficiency in their accuracy.
“It’s in the same way with GPS, where the vertical [measurement] is always weaker, because there’s no satellites below, and that’s never going to change. We have a technology that will allow you to get around that, using a laser to get down to millimetre accuracy, but raw GPS data you’re stuck with that 10-20mm accuracy.”