In Review: MicroSurvey's FieldGenius 2008

April 29, 2009
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MicroSurvey Software Inc.
#205-3500 Carrington Road
Westbank, BC, Canada V4T 3C1
800/668-3312 or 250/707-0000

online: www.microsurvey.com

Suggested Price List: A Bluetooth-enabled Allegro MX 128/2GB color system with FieldGenius 2008 standard is $3,370. Contact MicroSurvey for other package options.


MicroSurvey describes its Field Genius 2008 data collection software as powerful and productive. After testing it out on a new Allegro MX Field PC from Juniper Systems, I have to agree.

The instrument arrived from Micro Survey with the software already loaded. The system was packaged with many thoughtful accessories including a strong shoulder strap and a retractable pen stylus, which was handy with the PC’s touchscreen. I was also happy to find a complete printed Program Guide with a laminated cover. This manual is extremely useful and rugged enough to be carried in the field. Bravo, MicroSurvey, for not taking the cheap route and sending a CD-ROM with a PDF version of the manual.

After unpacking the device and checking to make sure that everything was in place, I headed out to a nearby construction site to begin my test.

Figure 1. The job start menu.

Startup and Connections

Beginning a job in FieldGenius was straightforward and simple. After starting the FieldGenius application, I was given the option to [Open] an existing job or choose [New Project] to type in a new project name (see Figure 1). I was then prompted to select an Automap template file or feature list file, name a raw file, or use the default job name. Selecting [Modify Project Information] allowed me to enter crew members, instruments and serial numbers, temperature, pressure, and other information.

I pressed [Continue] and proceeded to the setup screen where I was prompted to enter units and format information. I was then prompted to set a coordinate system or bypass this option by selecting [No]. Much of this data only needed to be entered once for the project.

From there, I was taken to an instrument selection screen that listed virtually every make and model of equipment. For example, the list of supported total station equipment included Geodimeter, Laser Technologies, Leica, Nikon, Pentax, Sokkia, South, Topcon, Trimble and Zeiss. The supported GPS equipment included Leica Novatel, Sokkia, Topcon, Trimble and other NMEA-capable GPS units, and RTN support was available for Leica, Altus, Magellan, Sokkia and Javad. I was using a third-party radio system that had never been tested with FieldGenius, and I had some trouble maintaining a consistent connection with my Topcon GPT 9003 robot. Setting the communication timeout to a higher setting seemed to help, but the problem was never completely resolved. MicroSurvey said that the software has been tested and confirmed to work with Topcon products using Topcon radio systems. If you use a third-party radio, I would be sure to test the software before purchasing it.

Figure 2. The map screen.

Once I had my instrument set on a known point, the software prompted me to take a backsight. The program was able to accommodate setting an azimuth and storing the backsight point or using two known points.

After my backsight was finished, I was presented with the map screen, which is where most of the work is accomplished (see Figure 2). Here, I was able to choose what type of shot I wanted to take, set the target height, edit the description and perform other related functions. Pressing [Start] took me to the main menu where I was able to find project settings, stakeout details, road information, import/export commands and other functions. Tapping [Map View] returned the system to the map screen. A Topo toolbar along the bottom portion of the screen contained buttons for automated line work, descriptions and point numbers. A [Measurement Mode] button allowed me to select side shot, traverse, offset, or multiple sets as well as resection or observe bench-mark routines. MicroSurvey made the measurement button larger than any other button, so taking a shot was simple. While the map screen had a great deal of functionality, it was well designed and uncluttered.

Figure 3. The calculations menu.

Routine Comparisons

The Staking routine contained all the staking commands I expected from a full-featured data collection program. Stakeout options included single points, lists of points or lines, alignments (located in the Roading module) and surfaces. Horizontal and vertical offsets to the alignments and slope staking were all supported. The software allowed me to create these entities in the field or use LandXML functionality to import them from a CAD program. I was also able to import both AutoCAD DXF files (intelligent files used in calculations and stakeout) and image files. The import/export of points was handled in a standard ASCII format, and data could be exported directly as Autodesk Fieldbook, SmartDraw (.sdr) or LandXML files, Shapefiles or DXF files.

The coordinate geometry (COGO) or Calculations routine in FieldGenius was particularly strong compared to other data collection software I’ve used (see Figure 3). It permitted intersections to be calculated by distance, direction or any combination thereof. The software supported inversing both radially and by traverse. I particularly liked the horizontal curve calculator, which was able to solve for both arc and chord definitions given almost any combination of knowns. The program also contained a coordinate calculator capable of converting between various coordinate systems, including State Plane NAD27, NAD83, UTM27, UTM83, Canadian and Australian/NZ systems. While the program doesn’t completely replace the extended NGS data sheets, having access to this calculator in the field would be handy for anyone who forgets to print the sheets before leaving the office. The only feature missing from the Calculations routine was the ability to compute vertical curves. While this feature was available in the Roading module, I would have preferred to access it from Calculations where the rest of the curve routines were located.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between FieldGenius and other software was the automated line-work routines. Rather than having to remember codes or numbers (bc5, fl6, ep10, etc.), I was able to start a line simply by pressing the [Line] button and taking a shot. That line was automatically drawn to the next shot. When I was done with the line, I simply tapped the [Line] button again to end it. I could then take a side shot by pressing the [Shot] button or start a new line by pressing [Line] and then [Shot]. Changing the description did not affect the line work.

In addition to simple lines, the software also provided spline and arc options. The splines drew best-fit arcs through my points, and the arcs were simple three-point arcs.

All line work was displayed as it was located. By tapping the line, I was able to display the Line toolbar. This toolbar allowed me to work with my lines using tools such as the Tape Measure, which allowed me to draw a sketch using the lines (or points) I had located. Imagine measuring a house and drawing it directly in the data collector as you measure instead of sketching it in a field book. This feature offers the potential for significant time savings both in the field and in the office.

Another line-work feature I liked was the [Perpendicular Offset] button, which calculated the station and offset from the selected line. I believe FieldGenius simply has the best line-work routines on the market today.

If you are looking to purchase a new data collection program, you will be hard-pressed to find a better choice than MicroSurvey’s FieldGenius 2008. The software is well designed and lacks very little. To see more detail on the program, I suggest watching the excellent videos on MicroSurvey’s Web site.

Sidebar: A Note About Hardware

The FieldGenius software supports a large number of data collectors and several operating platforms, including Windows CE, PocketPC and Windows Mobile, but I was impressed with the performance of the Allegro MX. The screen was easier to see in direct sunlight than earlier versions of Allegro collectors I have used. The unit seemed durable and had a solid feel. The touchscreen worked well, and Windows Mobile 6 is the most stable version of the ubiquitous operating system yet. The 624 mHz PXA270 processor is one of the fastest available for this type of device and is a major improvement over earlier versions. The available program RAM is 128MB, and 2G of storage are available, which seems to be standard on the higher-end data collectors available today. The unit is Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled.

The only real complaint I had with the unit was the communication port design. It worked fine but was difficult to access, and the rubber boot that protects each port refused to stay in place. The unit also could have used some protective rubber on the four corners to protect the screen and the bottom of the unit if it were dropped. However, these are minor complaints. This unit is fast and sturdy and would make an excellent choice for anyone considering a new data collector purchase.

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