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The Surveyor’s New Field Vest

April 21, 2003
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How LandXML is advancing the work of the surveyor and civil engineer.



Once crammed with flagging, plumb bobs, an HP48, PK nails, blueline prints and a yellow field book with a mechanical pencil as its bookmark, a surveyor’s field vest could be considered the Swiss army knife of the surveying profession. Contained within its fabric were all the tools we needed to do our jobs with the utmost efficiency. Add a total station to these tools and we were ready to tackle any job handed to us, from a boundary to a site plan. Today, when terms like tablet PC, digital design data, LandXML and GIS are mentioned, we realize the profession of surveying has seen much change and advancement over the years. How does it all benefit us? That’s where it gets interesting.

As I see it, advancements for the surveyor have occurred in three distinct areas: software technology, associated data schemas and company business processes. It can be tough to ignore the fact that hardware technology from computers to tablet PCs to fiber and wireless bandwidth have impacted surveyors. But, it is software, data and our business processes that arguably have the most potential impact on us.

The many uses of LandXML.

Software Technology

Software technology has evolved more in the last two years than in the last ten. Much of the recent change in surveying software is in its ability to read data transparently regardless of its origin. Bringing together surveying and civil engineering data with GIS data while maintaining the accuracy and precision we are accustomed to is a very real need today. Additionally, an interoperable series of products allow surveyors to create solutions in which project team members can view and/or use the same digital design data that surveyors create with applications specific to them. This in turn extends the data return on investment and enhances the project workflow and lifecycle to connect and include all consumers of that design data.

A critical component to that collaborative workflow is the digital design data produced at the earliest stages of a project. An old adage in surveying is that surveyors are the first on a site and usually the last to leave. What surveyors create early on has to pass through many hands and eventually gets back to the surveyor. Thus, surveyors hope and would like that returned data to be of the same quality and pedigree as what was delivered originally. The information and formats must be portable, both on the input side and the output side. Surveyors desire to be able to use data from many different sources as well as having accurate information that can be used as base map data in GIS systems. Data is valuable and should not be locked away. Many changes are underway with data sources such as XML, especially LandXML, that store exact surveying, civil engineering and transportation design data independent of the application that created it.

The LandXML information pipeline.

It’s All About the Data

LandXML, a schema initially derived from working with the authors of the earlier ASCII-based initiative EAS-E (Engineering And Surveying–Exchange) data interchange standard, was initiated by Autodesk Inc. of San Rafael, Calif., and other former EAS-E participants in late 1999. It was designed as an industry-driven, open XML data exchange standard addressing the needs of private and public sector land development and transportation professionals, software and hardware producers, and service vendors. Its potential impact on the surveying and civil engineering industry cannot be understated.

The primary charter or goal for LandXML is to specify a design data structure to:

  • Transfer survey measurement data and civil engineering and transportation design data among producers and consumers,
  • •Provide a data format suitable for long-term data archival, and
  • •Provide a standard format for official electronic design submission.

LandXML also has very powerful potential secondary uses that include:

  • Source design data for quantity take-off and cost estimation,
  • Source design data for custom calculations and reports,
  • A structure for accessible design data from remote and field devices,
  • A structure for a data extraction and submittal format for GIS databases, and
  • A structure for engineering design data transport layer for collaborative applications.

When considering some of the real-world customer problems and business issues that plague many of us, we see new hope in what LandXML can provide. LandXML can help solve some of the common issues through the following tools.

Data Exchange and Sharing
Common Issue: Engineers and surveyors using dissimilar software design applications to exchange and/or share design data.

Solution: LandXML is a design data exchange format for common civil engineering, surveying and land planning data. Using software applications that import or export LandXML data, professionals can share data created during the land development process.

Submitting Project Data
Common Issue: Multiple data files to approval agencies are submitted in vendor and version specific software files that have limited use and shelf life.

Solution: Instead of or in addition to submitting vendor- and version-specific software files, surveying and engineering firms can submit a LandXML project file to approval agencies. The specification of LandXML ensures that the consultant can properly deliver the data and that the receiving organization can fully use it.

Archiving Data
Common Issue: Long-term archival of project design data.

Solution: Archiving data for the future is critical, but the value is lost if that data is not usable in the future. LandXML is not reliant on any one software title or version, and the format is derived as open, ASCII characters. All LandXML data files also include the schema version and schema definition path, so the file can remain usable even as the current schema versions are incremented.

Extending the Use of Project Data
Common Issue: Data created during the design process is not easily leveraged beyond the engineering department.

Solution: Historically, to use the data beyond the engineering department, users typically needed the initial authoring software and the expertise to use the product to retrieve the reports and data that were desired. This is not a problem with LandXML, which given its rich information can be viewed, modeled or rendered by any software that reads the file format. Design data can now be linked to takeoff and estimating or visualization software, without being converted or changed, allowing others on a project who are not the CAD experts to utilize the information in their software for their purposes quickly and easily.

A Global Impact

LandXML is a global schema. For example, in New Zealand LandXML is the required format for surveyors to submit and receive cadastral information from its country-wide Land Information System (see www.landonline. govt/nz/ for more information). LandXML extends the use of captured information by providing a self-describing and self-contained design data format that enables the data itself to have value outside the context of the design application that created it.

How does this tie into the items already mentioned? Well, we are the authors of this land and infrastructure information and it is critical for us to pass along this information to all who need it. (If data requires constant reformatting or redoing to make it compatible for the next consumer’s needs, then users run the risk of incorrect and invalid changes made by those who are not in responsible charge for its accuracy trying to make it fit into a system that may make the data imprecise.) For example, what happens to the accuracy of a surveyed road spiral that is brought into a GIS that cannot understand it? Data must be transparent from the authoring application that created it to the application that uses it later. This digital design data should not be proprietary to any one system but rather usable by all. And that is the problem that LandXML is intended to solve.

An example of how LandXML was implemented within Landonline.

Business Process Improvement

This leads us to business process improvement. How do we ensure that our company and project teams have the process in place to leverage and utilize the latest in technology and data? Businesses are facing changes. Design project sizes are growing, are more complex and have tighter timelines. Design collaborations are prevalent; we have to work real-time and share information real-time with the other experts on the team, both inside the company and out. It is this interdisciplinary work that has created the need for worldwide standards for representation, transmission and collaboration. In high velocity design/build projects it is critical that everyone is on the same page, that errors and liabilities created by redoing information to overcome data incompatibility are minimized to keep a project solvent. Key to that is a return on investment (ROI) in design information. Those who create the data own it. The concept of creating it once and using it throughout a project is how LandXML helps solve this common problem for businesses.

For many of us LandXML will be a change in focus from being application-centric to data-centric. We often tend to think about what software is needed with a particular data collector or total station, while at the same time the engineering department is thinking about how it needs certain design software and wireless devices for inspections. While this makes each department efficient at doing its own tasks, have the two really communicated from a process standpoint? Going forward users need to look at investing in software and processes that allow free information exchange without repeated conversions. Users need products that all members of the team can use, while still being able to leverage all the legacy information and deliver what the client needs quickly, easily and accurately.

Our New Techno Vest

What we do isn’t going to change day to day. What surveyors, civil engineers and others in this industry do has been the same for the better part of a thousand years. But, how we accomplish our tasks and how we approach them can change. Surveyors must ascertain the precise location and accurate details of everything built today and in the future. This is a lot of responsibility, especially since today more and more people need the accurate and precise information surveyors collect and certify. And today, they want it digitally rather than in paper form.

In today’s new techno vest, there are pockets for more modern-aged gadgets such as tablet PCs, PDA devices with surveying software and wireless web access with high bandwidth. More importantly, surveyors and civil engineers have a pipeline to take their accurate information in forms like LandXML and move it to those who need it. LandXML can provide digital data to all the consumers of precise land and infrastructure information for the benefit of society, while ensuring that the surveyors who walk in our footsteps have much easier and more efficient access to information.

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