Point of Beginning

Sight Lines: Adventures in Geodesy

January 27, 2010
Technology is rapidly changing the way surveyors collect and disseminate data. What will the surveyor’s role look like if the next generation of receivers allows high levels of real-time accuracy without ground control?



A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a seminar on State Plane Coordinates and Datum Transformations in Novi, Mich., hosted by Ferris State University’s Burt and Mullet student chapter of ACSM. The presenter was David Doyle, chief geodetic surveyor for the NGS, and he offered a fascinating glimpse of the future.

He pointed out that technology has made it possible for an increasing number of people to use positioning data in unconventional ways. By the year 2020, as many as 120 satellites could be available for positioning if China, Russia and the European Union follow through with their planned launches. What’s more, triple-frequency receivers will likely be able to achieve 30 to 50 centimeters or better real-time accuracy without ground control, and accuracy down to 10 centimeters may even be possible. What will the surveyor’s role look like when this happens?

I can already hear some readers saying that their role will simply disappear. After all, technology advances almost always cause a certain number of job casualties. Doyle pointed out that 100 years ago, it might have taken 20 people three weeks to measure a baseline, so GPS technology has already taken a substantial toll from that perspective. But that’s the backwards view. The forward-thinking view envisions all of the possibilities.

According to Doyle, it’s crucial that today’s surveyors gain a solid understanding of the reference frame. “Within our own community, we have a simple lack of education about the reference standards,” Doyle said. “Yet we as surveyors are the spatial data professionals. If we don’t get it right, none of us can expect anyone else to get it right.”

Based on this line of thought, a good understanding of the reference frame and the value of data should enable today’s professionals to pursue new opportunities as the future unfolds.


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What do you think? What will the surveyor’s role will look like in 10 years? What opportunities do you see emerging in this new paradigm? Please share your comments below.