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Trimble’s role in the changing face of surveying

The role of a construction surveyor is changing drastically, and with the power of the Trimble® TSC7 controller, today’s surveyors are equipped to achieve optimized data entry in all conditions. Trimble’s Jason Rossback and Casey Cyrus agree, and they recently shared their thoughts on construction surveying and the TSC7 in an exclusive interview.


How is construction site surveying different from land surveying? For instance, how much does accuracy levels matter in each case?

Land survey typically brings the control or “starting points” to any construction project. These points and their collection method and data must be at the highest defendable standards, as everything is placed relative to these points. Land survey points are legally binding, and specifications require that these points are tied to local or national geodetic networks.

Construction surveyors then use these starting points to place infrastructure relative to these points. For example, a land surveyor would come into a subdivision and set property corners (legally defensible) as this land will be sold and needs to be recorded within local agencies. The construction surveyor will then use relative positioning techniques to “pull off” or “set back” points from theses control points.

In most cases, the accuracy standards and the equipment used are the same, however the data required for legal reasons are totally different. For example, the property corners need to be as accurate as possible, but the light poles in a parking lot could be allowed to vary by six inches. Construction surveyors must place hundreds of points a day, whereas a land surveyor could spend all day collecting data to establish a single point. The quality inspections for construction projects are usually tied to water drainage and passing various tests such as “eye” tests (it looks good) or a “seat ride” test (it feels good), where driving the lane provides a smooth ride. These tests have also improved to where inspectors are now using 12 foot straight edges and profilograph systems to keep the construction surveyors in check.

The processes, accuracy standards and the governing institutions are also different. For land survey this is the land recording office, and for construction, it is up to the owner of the project. Construction surveyors use the most expedient workflows to get the job done. Whereas land surveyors must be diligent about the data and the statistical analysis to prove the quality. As technology improves, so does the testing and certification of quality, which is bringing the two disciplines closer together.

What are the latest technological developments in surveying?

The Trimble® TSC7 Controller is an evolutionary, innovative new rugged handheld computer from Trimble designed for land and civil construction surveyors. It includes a full and backlit keyboard for optimized data entry in all conditions. Running Windows® 10 Pro with a modern multi-touch screen greatly enhances the user experience. Dedicated function keys make it easier to get access to your most commonly used functions. The new Trimble EMPOWER modules allow easy expansion to add additional sensors or communications to the TSC7 (such as a long range radio for robotic surveying or high-accuracy GNSS).  

Depending on the user type and application, the TSC7 can accommodate different software packages. For Land Surveyors, Trimble Access™ (2018) field software has a completely redesigned user interface that keeps the familiar workflows and integrates this into a highly visual, hybrid map and data entry user experience. 

The new Trimble Siteworks Positioning Systems for Construction Surveyors and Construction Supervisors are tailored for construction applications. Trimble Siteworks was designed to be intuitive and easy to learn, even for construction workers without a traditional surveying background.

Please elaborate on use of site positioning technology in construction. How is Trimble facilitating this?

Site positioning technology for construction surveying has changed the team makeup. Prior to technology, tape measure, levels and string lines were the only tools available. Teams included individual crews on each end of the tape and sometimes a third logging data and giving directions. The team would spend time laying out points horizontally with the tape and then re-measuring each point with a level. Site positioning technology has made it possible to downsize crew sizes, and today most tasks can be performed by a single person.  We like to say, “with site positioning technology, you can now hold both ends of the tape”.


Imagine the task of laying out a 100 foot grid at 10 foot intervals, where the first point is as tight as it can be and every point thereafter has the error for the first point plus the error for every point afterwards.  If every point has one inch of error, by the time you get to the far corner you might be out 10 inches. Using site positioning, each point is independent and has error only from the control, the instrument setup and the measuring accuracy of the tool being used. This improves the accuracy to less than an inch of error with good procedures.

How does use of cloud computing enable field workers to be more efficient? How do the TSC7 and the software options available for it provide this?

Cloud computing increases collaboration between field workers and the office by getting data to and from the field more quickly and efficiently. For example, a surveyor could be performing a boundary survey and may have grabbed the wrong set of ground points to survey. Being able to pull the correct data remotely prevents a trip back to the office. The software provides an organized hierarchy of projects and jobs that can be assigned to surveyors. All the associated data with a project, such as basemaps, control points and coordinate systems, can be setup in the office, and the surveyor can login and sync the jobs directly from the field. When the job is complete, the software will send the completed job to the Trimble Connect cloud-based collaboration platform, or directly to Trimble Business Center office software for quicker access to the data from the field. The TSC7 comes with an LTE/4G data radio as well as Wi-Fi, so communicating to the cloud is more easily achieved when working remotely.


How popular is TSC7 in the market? Has it transformed the construction survey industry? How?

The TSC7 started shipping at the end of May 2018. We were very pleased with the feedback we received from first customers and the performance exceeded their expectations. We sold every unit we had in the second quarter of the year. By bringing the benefits and ease of use of Windows 10 Pro, a touch screen, a keyboard, and multiple communication radios into a product designed for surveyors, we anticipate the uses of the TSC7 to be limitless. In the past, the surveyor had a data collector with a single purpose. The TSC7 provides a rugged, mobile computer that is not constrained to only running Trimble field software. Now, users can run any Windows application as necessary, and with the optional office dock they can connect their TSC7 to a full size display, mouse, and keyboard to further take advantage of the power of this new rugged handheld computer from Trimble. The software is also getting excellent user feedback. Customers report that field work is easier, and that the map-centric workflows improve project performance.

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