The latest news in surveying and mapping.

Trimble Acquires TDS

First Spectra Precision and now TDS. Trimble Navigation Limited, Sunnyvale, Calif., a worldwide leader in the development of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology-based products, today announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Tripod Data System (TDS), Corvallis, Ore. TDS is a leading developer of data collection software for the land surveying, construction and Geographic Information System (GIS) markets.

The TDS acquisition is valued at less than $15 million. Closing of the transaction is anticipated by the end of fiscal fourth quarter of 2000. Further details of the agreement were not disclosed.

TDS has three core business components. The company develops software for data collection applications, manufactures rugged Windows CE-based handheld data collectors such as their TDS Ranger, and develops software for pen computer applications through its Pen Metrics business unit.

“TDS will strengthen our current position in the land survey, construction and GIS segments and provide capabilities for their applications,” said Steven W. Berglund, president and chief executive officer. “In addition, this acquisition will reinforce Trimble's strategy of combining position, wireless communication and data into solutions for our targeted markets.”

With Trimble’s recent acquisition of Spectra Precision, a leading provider of construction lasers, machine control systems, optical surveying instruments and related software, Trimble now broadens its portfolio of positioning solutions for the engineering and construction, and agriculture markets.

Surveyor Olympics Debuts

One Olympic event was not held in Sydney, Australia this summer, but in Florida instead. Contenders for the event need not be in excellent physical condition, either. Training for the event, however, has extended over several years as training has for events like fencing, swimming and archery.

The event: Chain throwing. The participants: surveyors.

At the 45th annual conference of the Florida Surveying and Mapping Society (FSMS) in August, confident surveyors stepped onto the sand at the St. Augustine beach to win the acclaim of “Best Chain Thrower.”

After stretching out a 100-foot metal chain, participants competed in coiling the chain neatly in the best time. Amidst the whipping chains and flying sand, Ray Niles of FSMS added to the fever of the competition with chants such as, “Come On! BE the chain!”

Experience and swiftness won Leslie L. “PeeWee” Pierce the winner with a record of 46.3 seconds. Pierce is the Right of Way Section Manager for the Real Estate Department, County Survey Division of Hillsborough County, Fla.

PeeWee was honored for his expert chain throwing with a trophy at the FSMS Awards Luncheon.

Good going, PeeWee!

NCEES Adds Digital Wording to Model Law

The issue of digital signatures has made its way into national surveying and engineering guidelines. The passage of Public Law 106-229, the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, in June, led the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) to implement the theme of the law to their Model Law. At its annual meeting in August, the NCEES Electronic Technology Task Force passed motions specifically regarding electronic signatures and contracts to be used as guidelines for state associations and private organizations. Contained in the NCEES’ White Paper to President Clinton, the Seal and Signature Requirements proposed that a document be created by or under the supervision of a design professional licensed by the state. By signing and sealing the document, the design professional attests to the authenticity of the copy and assumes legal liability for the contents of the documents and can be held accountable for its contents.

The electronic signature process would work like this: Users would have encryption software loaded on their computer, as well as installed hardware including a magnetic or PCMCIA card reader, or other device. Users would simply double click on the software icon, select the file to digitally sign and swipe a magnetic card. They can then send the drawing to clients, as long as those clients have the same software and hardware. The clients then swipe their cards and validate the files.

The proposed motions of the Task Force were approved, and changes to Section 2(h) of the NCEES Model Law, now defines a digital signature as:

an electronic authentication process attached to or logically associated with an electronic document. It must be: a) unique to the person using it; b) capable of verification; c) under the sole control of the person using it; and d) linked to a document in such a manner that the digital signature in invalidated if any data in the document is changed.

Section 2(i) redefined the term “seal” as a symbol, image or list of information that may be found in the form of a rubber stamp, embossed seal, computer generated data or other form found acceptable to the board that is applied or attached to the document in a manner consistent with board rules. It shall contain the jurisdiction of licensure, the licensee’s name, the license/certificate/registration number, the words “professional engineer” and discipline (if licensed by) or “professional surveyor” and any other information required by the board, such as addresses, phone numbers or corporation numbers. If the seal is computer generated, there will be not be restriction on the amount of information that could be included.

Section 12C(2), Seals, was amended to define drawings, reports or documents signed using digital signatures to contain an authentication procedure and a list of the hardware, software and parameters used to prepare the document(s).

Since a digital signature is not a digitized image of a handwritten signature, and since a digitized image can be altered by graphics software, the NCEES Electronic Task Force discussed an encryption method based on the government’s General Standards so anyone can decode a file but not alter it. This feature requires a pair of keys to operate the encryption process. The description of the first key, or the “private key,” is a secret known only to the author of the document to be encrypted. The second key, or the “public key,” decodes the electronic file. The public key is linked to the private key in such a way that it is statistically impossible to discover the secret of the private key through knowledge of the public key. When the public key successfully decodes the electronic file, the holder of the public key needs to be assured that it is still the valid match to the private key originally used by the author of the document. A trusted third party is needed to certify the public key holder that any file successfully decoded with that public key was authored by the particular person holding the matching private key. This third party, the Certifying Authority, validates the key pair and the identity of the original author.

To date, ten states have adopted the public key/private key system for all digital signatures, while two have adopted it for specific purposes: Florida for engineering and surveying documents and Oregon for trust documents. Not all of these ten states require the licensing of Certifying Authorities.

In states using the Certifying Authority, the technology is not being used as it should be to provide adequate public protection.

“It is a complex process to use the certifying authorities,” said Gail Oliver, PSM, County Surveyor for St. Johns County, Fla. and Chair of the Electronic Technology Task Force. “It is a new process that few have been through and a big change. Professionals opt to prepare the hard copy maps, signed and sealed conventionally to meet the statute requirement. Then the professional sends the electronic copy with no security or protection.”

How difficult is the digital signature to break? The NCEES notes that it might take a high-speed computer 20 years to break into a contractor’s bid file. If a virus is inserted into the file after the digital signature is applied, the file will not authenticate. Furthermore, the digital signature would identify the source of the virus. The NCEES found no documented evidence of code and security breaking activities related to engineering and surveying. They also discovered no greater risk to the profession or the public than what already exists today with paper. Electronic date and time stamps with proper verification can ensure document authenticity for documents in electronic form.

“It is possible that if there is never a paper copy generated, a permanent record would not exist for a project. However, it is going to be a professional judgement decision as to what projects it is appropriate to use the technology with and if lack of a paper copy is a concern,” Oliver said. “With digital signature software, it takes about five minutes to sign and seal a drawing. That is even creating a new set of codes or keys to secure the drawing with. The software is real easy to use. I purchased CADLock, which works real well right inside AutoCAD. I believe it will take less time using digital signature technology since you will not be plotting, printing, manually signing and sealing. I really don’t see the time element as an issue.”

The NCEES found that many states have adopted broad statutes and rules that deal with the general use of digital or electronic signatures in daily commerce. Twenty-seven states have adopted broader laws for general communication purposes that allow any electronic mark, symbol, process or even sound to be used to sign and electronic document. Thirteen states have systems where the digital signature method is unspecified, but certain minimum standards are required for digital signatures to be legally valid.