In Review: TopSURV, Topcon Tools and SiteMaster

October 28, 2010
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Topcon’s integrated software products offer functionality and versatility for effective data management.

The stakeout information labels in TopSURV's Real-Time Roads can be customized to report the information required by the user, and the toolbars can be collapsed to maximize the viewable map area.

Topcon Positioning Systems Inc.

7400 National Drive
Livermore, CA 94551
Suggested Price List: Kit prices for TopSURV range from $495 to less than $3,000, depending on options and accuracy requirements.

Software for handling data collection, processing and production of data and document deliverables comes in a confusing mix of titles and features that seem to overlap and with benefits that are hard to appreciate. Surveyors and other professionals have specific requirements when it comes to how they want the software to operate, what functions it should have, and how its various modules should integrate with field and office workflow and work with third-party products.

Topcon’s TopSURV, Topcon Tools and SiteMaster are designed to address these requirements. They operate as separate packages but can also be integrated with each other to function as a whole suite. In fact, certain aspects of the products purposely overlap so that depending on where the software operations are done as work flows from the field to the office to outside the office--be it to a third party or employees in the field--the varied range of professionals who “touch” the data, use it and enhance it can use the software products in their own mix to accomplish specific goals.

With an integrated package, users can add functionality while maintaining a high degree of versatility for applications such as property boundary surveys, topographic surveys, subdivision and construction layout, and linear projects, particularly roads. Users can decide whether to have only total station support or GPS support as well, in addition to digital level support. All three software products are designed to minimize complexity while maximizing functionality. And flexibility is key; users can start with a single product and then add to it as more power is needed to fit a broader range of applications.

TopSURV's Survey Topo routine provides a full map view.


TopSURV, Topcon’s data collection and field management software, handles all the technical and administrative details of using GPS equipment or total stations--or both--to capture data, quality check the data, perform impromptu field calculations and analysis as required, transmit to a processing site and, once a design is complete, to go back out in the field and set irons for property corners, stakes for alignment and grading, and other types of markers as required by the client. TopSURV is also designed to be integrated with Topcon’s digital levels.

The software resides in the electronic boxes--commonly referred to as “handhelds”--that are used to manage the process of data collection. It is also available onboard many Topcon total stations such as the GPT-7500, GTS-900 and GPT-7000i. However, many businesses that want the flexibility of using the most appropriate data collection and computing software for the field with either total stations or GPS equipment choose to combine it with a field controller from Topcon’s suite of hardware products.

The software’s graphical interface is designed for use with touch screens. It has large icons that can be easily pressed with a finger (even within a glove); no stylus is needed. The software is also intuitive. It minimizes the number of times the user needs to stop and refer to the instruction manual or the onboard, context-sensitive help functions. What’s more, it is a field product designed for the rigors of day-to-day surveying. For example, a maximum of only four clicks or selections are required to get to any part of the software the user wishes to access. Other benefits include speedy search functions that allow users to edit data or review tasks done earlier in the day or over the life of the job; and an efficient database that allows users to quickly store data once they have reviewed a measurement.

Workflow is also enhanced by the software’s collection routines--the processes that allow users to initiate measurements, review the results, attach information such as feature codes and attributes, and then store the data. Since most fieldwork is measured in terms of speed and efficiency, which also includes the aspect of accuracy, TopSURV’s designers have paid extra attention to this detail of the software to make sure that the routines accessed most often for these processes are responsive and flexible.

The software is offered in five modules to suit specific applications. “Contractor” offers simplified functionality for the most common layout and point collection tasks in a construction environment. “Roading” offers the support needed to create and edit cross section templates, horizontal and vertical alignments, and slope stakeout. “Robotic” adds support for all of the robotic total stations in the Topcon lineup and includes functions such as automated surface scanning with the total station and draping of digital photos over measurements. “GPS” allows users to drive their RTK GPS effortlessly and enables integration of total station data with GPS data. And “GIS” provides GIS data capture and integration.

The Topcon Tools CAD view allows for quick editing of data with real-time graphic feedback.

Topcon Tools

Topcon Tools is the principal office companion to TopSURV and other field collection software where extensive data manipulation, editing and analysis are required. It can serve as the prime receiver of data that come fresh from the field as well as the prime transmitter of data following analysis and design into the field controllers so that various staking out functions can be done. The software can handle detailed control of data flow, editing, processing and analysis. It can also be used to display survey data against on-screen backdrops from a variety of sources, such as Google Earth. Although the source of the data can be identified, the professional can manipulate the data without regard to the field sensor from which it was derived, thus creating an ideal environment for creativity and rigorous design. 

As with TopSURV, users can select the specific modules needed to perform the required tasks. Following are some key modules and a brief description of their features:
  • PostProcessing supports the processing and adjustment of GNSS data. This module is the comprehensive GPS and Glonass support for all satellite data operations, including static to real-time kinematic (RTK). The features and flexibility range from reviewing data for dependent baseline exclusion to satellite inclusion or exclusion. Additionally, the module includes a full-featured least squares routine for 1D, 2D or 3D adjustment of total station, level or GPS networks or networks that involve any combination of the technologies.

  • RTK is for importing, exporting and adjusting RTK data. It gives the user maximum support for managing RTK data without the burden of the complete suite of GPS plus Glonass support.

  • TS is for managing total station data. Features such as adjustment, quality processing and editing and display of data collected with total stations are isolated in this module.

  • The GIS module supports processing DGPS data and accessing CORS data as well as preparing GIS field data for export into a GIS program. In addition to supporting the processing of differential GPS data that is often used in the GIS field data collection process, this module supports attribute entry and management as well as various options for export into GIS packages.

  • Design can be used to build and manage digital terrain models (surfaces) as well as to create and edit roads. Features include support for creating digital terrain models and a host of COGO functions, including generating surface comparisons, creating road models and designs, and supporting field data taken from existing or planned roads.

  • Imaging handles diverse functions such as processing images, draping them on data models, importing and viewing stereopairs, and managing total station scan session data from products such as the 7000i imaging total station. Users can display the total station point data taken in scan sessions as well as perform various COGO, analysis and design functions. In addition, users can import overlapping stereopairs with this module, view the models, and locate points (determine coordinates) in them.

  • Advanced modules are also available for applications such as GIS and post processing. The latter includes features such as the ability to select the post processing engine (such as Baseline, MultiSite or Extended RTK) and the ability to select the processing mode (L1 and L2, Iono Free, Wide Lane, etc). There is also additional support for adjustment and localization (transformations).
Topcon Tools gives users with advanced needs a high degree of flexibility to manage the data, fine tune data processing, create products for delivery to clients and fellow professionals, and produce reports for efficient management of projects ranging from roads and other construction to subdivisions. Portability of the software is enabled with a simple-to-use USB key that authorizes the computer in which it is inserted to allow use of all the modules that the user has chosen.

The three-pane road viewer in SiteMaster allows users to see the plan, profile and X-section views simultaneously.


SiteMaster is a versatile everyday tool for the professional who is involved specifically in managing the surveying and data flow on construction sites, including 3D machine control file processing. In addition to handling the basic processing of survey data in the office, it includes many of the communications features of Topcon Tools to extract data from field devices and to upload design data into those devices. It also contains all of the TopSURV features so that field processes can be duplicated in the office when needed, particularly when extensive data from diverse survey crews need to be managed, edited and combined into a unified database.

SiteMaster also follows through with the site design process by providing the ability to generate plot plans and as-builts. Since no design is final until it is built, SiteMaster also supports revision plans as a project progresses through inevitable changes due to discoveries in the field that limit full execution of the original design or changes in materials or construction processes.

SiteMaster is an integrated package that supports design, surface modeling and the various processes involved in construction. It can interface with total stations, GPS technology, 3D machine control systems or a combination of these technologies. Its key functionality is the production of a complete surface model to manage the entire construction process. The product even includes features to compute overland flow and pipe sizes and solve sewer networks.

An important feature of SiteMaster is the ability to take a 2D design and “elevate it” to a 3D design from which a machine control file can be generated. The 3D machine control features of the product also allow for rapid editing and correction of machine control files. Additional features include the ability to generate 3D design views (shaded relief perspective views) as well as the conventional plan and profile views. The software also includes a vast array of road design and road viewing functions.

SiteMaster Lite is a product derived from SiteMaster that delivers less functionality for offices that don’t require high-tech design features. This variant supports the basic 3D machine control file support including import, export and editing, viewing and editing of roads (horizontal and vertical alignments) and cross sections and profiles. It can be easily upgraded to the full SiteMaster product when additional functionality is needed.

Selecting the Right Software

When acquiring software, a professional office should first determine its data handling and processing goals. Are the primary goals to quality check and clean the data and then move it to a design office? Are they to integrate new data with the survey professional’s existing database so that changes in a design or machine control 3D file can be updated and then sent back to the field? Or is the primary objective to have a system that enables the firm to get the job done quickly and accurately, regardless of whether “the job” involves collecting data, producing a report or setting points in the field to conclude the process?

Through TopSURV, Topcon Tools and SiteMaster, Topcon has made the software selection equation easier to solve. This basic “kit,” whether in a single product or combined, will fit most applications that are involved in surveying or that deal with surveying data.

Topcon Releases TopSURV v8

New software releases of already existing software are usually a combination of improvements to the previous version and brand new features that enhance the product’s benefits to the user. The newest version of TopSURV excels in both regards.

Highlights include:
  • Real-Time Roads, which allows the user to stake a road design where the current position is used to dynamically determine cut/fill, station or offset. The user can configure up to two data labels for real-time features such as cut/fill or offset. Simultaneously, the software determines whether to offer “catch point” stakeout (stakeout of points where the cut or fill areas touch the undisturbed earth) if the road is near the edge of the cut/fill.

  • Support for import and export of road strings in LandXML format, usually considered the best way to delineate a road design when doing stakeout and machine control. (Land XML is a non-proprietary data standard [] driven by an industry consortium of partners.) In the past, separate horizontal and vertical alignments had to be imported or exported to define the road design. Now it is possible to define the design with one integrated file. The process is more efficient, eliminates mistakes and is easier for everyone.

  • Better support for cross-section staking on roads. One of the most problematic areas for surveyors in the field is finding and staking catch points. Improvements in how the side slopes are defined during import enable more accurate and faster location of these catch points.

  • Improved maps for all surveying and stakeout functions. When maps are available in real time, everyone involved can better visualize the progress, speed and extent of the work. As the transition from manual to electronic data processing occurred in surveying, one of the casualties was a loss of real-time graphical definition of the progress in the field. Surveyors, in their quest for speed and accuracy, had to sacrifice real-time sketches or plots of their work. With the large-screen graphics in TopSURV v8, the benefits of visualization have now returned to modern surveying.
The software also features improved communications, enhanced file import/export functions, a configurable user interface in stakeout, custom stake reports and improved in-field status reporting.

Version 8 of TopSURV will be available this fall.

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