PocketCAD view of a real job.

Data collection and CAD in a package about the size of a hand-held calculator.

About two years ago I purchased a Casio Color Pocket PC and used it to download news and books from the Internet to listen to while making my weekly commute and to run the Franklin Covey Planner Software that interfaces with Microsoft Outlook. During that time I played with a program called PocketCAD and thought to myself, “This would really be a great setup if data collection integrated with CAD were available for this unit.” My thought has become a reality; XYZworks has produced the ultimate package called Fieldworks.

I came across a post from a Curt Busby about Fieldworks on one of the Internet message boards. I knew a Curt Busby who was a programmer for Hewlett–Packard’s surveying division during the late 1970s, so I decided to investigate the posting. What a small world. Curt and another gentleman, Larry Worley, formed XYZworks, Bellvue, Colo. They produce data collection software that operates on pocket PCs using the Windows CE operating system.

I was fortunate to be able to use the Fieldworks software running on a Compaq iPAQ 3650 Pocket PC thanks to the staff at Easy Drive in San Antonio, Texas. I made an agreement with them: If they got me an evaluation unit and became a dealer, I would purchase the unit (assuming, of course, that I liked the unit). I purchased the unit and they became a dealer. I think they have sold several units since.

I have been using data collection software since about 1990. This is not a review of software from behind the desk. I have used Fieldworks on actual projects over several weeks. The package arrived with the Compaq Pocket PC and the Fieldworks software installed on a CompactFlash 8 Mb memory card. Installation of the Microsoft ActiveSync software was painless, as was the installation of the Fieldworks software from the memory card.

Figure 1. New projects require input of the height of instrument.

Options Are a Plus

The program starts up displaying a main menu with four screen pick options and a Windows-type menu system that will allow direct access to all of the program’s functions. The first item of business, however, is to set the parameters for the programs under options. I used a Leica TCR 303 instrument, which triggered the gun and worked on the first try. All of the standard options for units, angular reference and grid factor are set in this screen. An interesting option is stake sounds, which I will discuss later.

After all of your options are set, you are ready to enter or set up a project. One of the features I like is the ability to create multiple job folders with the CE operating system. (Many users have multiple projects in progress at the same time.) Fieldworks lists all of the projects no matter where the project folder is located. After converting one of our projects points from an AutoCAD drawing to ASCII format and importing the file into Fieldworks, I was ready to try out the program in the field.

Alignments for stakeouts are created with plot files created in much the same way as plot files were created for the old HP surveying software. Lines connect point numbers separated by spaces. There are also commands to plot points only, lines only, turn numbering on and off, plus arc plotting routines. The plot files can be saved providing the ability to set up multiple alignments prior to arrival at your project. The currently selected plot file becomes the alignment used for road staking.

Vertical control is set up from the road stakeout screen. There is a button on the screen that takes you to a routine to enter your station, elevation and length of vertical curve. You simply enter zero for length of vertical curve if you are staking sewer, water or streets without vertical curves. You don’t have to generate a point list or enter percent grade as with other software. The vertical control file is named the same as your alignment file and selected automatically if you select the vertical control option. You can also enter the elevations off of the plans if you do not want to set up the vertical control file and still calculate cut/fills.

Other options include cut sheet generation and storing of the calculated stakeout coordinated. You simply hit the side shot button to store the as-staked point. If the as-staked option is turned on in the options screen you will generate a nice as-built printout showing the calculated point, the staked point and the x, y and z differences.

One of the little amenities I like is the varying pitch sound that is made when you get close to the stake point. It starts with a very low sound that begins when you are within 10', and it increases in pitch until you are within a 1/2' of the target point. Then the tone changes to a cash register sound. This is great if you are using a robotic total station or GPS because you don’t have to concentrate on the screen near as much. It is more intuitive, kind of like using a metal detector. As you get closer the pitch increases, much like playing the childhood game Hot-Cold.

Figure2. GPS options screen.

More Options, More Pluses

Now for the really cool part: On the bottom of the stakeout, coordinate, COGO and collection screens, there is a CAD option. If you are in the stakeout screen and are running PocketCAD Pro 4.0 when you select the CAD button, you are switched to the PocketCAD screen. There are two add-ins from XYZworks that when installed add two icons to the PocketCAD icon menu. Selecting the stakeout icon will allow you to select any point in the drawing and then switch you back to the stakeout screen with the angle and distance. How many times have you arrived at the project to have the contractor ask for something you have not computed? Those days are over. I have tested this in the field with a 2.4 Mb file. (Loading of the file is slow at that size, but heck—this isn’t a 1 gig Pentium 4, either.)

If you are in data collection mode, you select the CAD option and the XYZworks shoot option, and all shots you take until you turn off the option are plotted in PocketCAD. There is a lot more power available by using descriptors. By setting up point descriptors, the user has the option of connecting points with lines, creating points as text, blocks, drawing arcs, or plotting a symbol for the point (water valve, tree, etc.).

Even if you do not have the descriptor set up, you can still have all the power of CAD with you in the field and manually connect the points. PocketCAD and Fieldworks are getting us as close to producing a final survey drawing in the field as anything I have seen so far. An option to convert your plot files to CAD files also exists.

One of the most powerful features of Fieldworks is COGO. Some of you more mature surveyors (that’s polite for old) who used the Hewlett-Packard software from the late 1970s and early 1980s will love Fieldworks COGO. Previously, I did very little computing in the field. The software I used would not allow me to recall bearing and distance by point numbers separated with commas. I was afraid of transposing data or writing something down wrong in the field. This too is over. In fact, I have recalculated points in the field on two recent jobs that would have required returning to the office for computations.

Figure 3. Data collection screen.

Proving the System with GPS

Recently, I had the opportunity to use Fieldworks with a Leica 530 RTK GPS System on 49-acre topographic survey. Joe Copeland of Easy Drive met me on the site to familiarize me with the system. We transferred a control point on to the site and then set up the base station and started up the rover. Earlier in the week I had XYZworks send a data cable to interface with the Leica system. We attached the IPAQ with Fieldworks to the system and did not receive any data. A quick call to Curt at XYZworks, a few minor configuration changes and we were running.

Figure 4. A user can see a portion of a grid established in CAD and field shots as they are collected.
If the user has not set up the project, the first screen that will automatically pop up is the height of the instrument box (Figure 1 on page 27). If the project has previously been set up you will go to either the stakeout screen or the collect screen. This selection will also turn on the Leica GPS unit. Joe advised that this was the only data collector he was familiar with that will perform this with the Leica system.

The next screen that appears is the GPS options screen (Figure 2 on page 27), which has several options. The convert grid to ground option will automatically convert the satellite output to surface coordinates. This computes a scale factor that is shown on the screen and will be used throughout the project. A user should use a point somewhere near the center of the project and use the collect point option. If you have your own coordinate system and point stored for the collected point shot, you may then enter the translate to point and your shots will be collected in your coordinate system. Also on this screen you can turn the receiver off and check status of the batteries. You can reach this option screen from either the collect mode or the stakeout mode by selecting the new setup option at anytime.

The data collection screen (Figure 3 on page 27) displays in real-time the horizontal and vertical quality of the currently received data. You will also note an extremely handy feature called Auto Inverse. This will display the bearing and distance (in real-time) from the last collected point. This is extremely handy when shooting topo on a grid or collecting data at a specified interval along pavement. Collection of data can be stopped by selecting any blank area on the screen and resumed again by selecting the measure button. The sideshot button stores the point and leaves the machine in real-time collection mode. Figure 4 displays a portion of the grid previously established in the CAD drawing and also the field shots as they are being collected.

The stakeout portion of Fieldworks will allow you to pick any location in the CAD drawing and return a coordinate to stakeout and then computes the northing and easting distance to navigate to the point (Figure 5). The track option provides continuous readout and the stakeout sounds previously mentioned. You can also store the coordinate data by selecting the sideshot button.

This project just happened to be adjacent to a large building products site where we had been doing the site layout. The contractor caught me while doing the topo and needed some islands located for the sprinkler crew to install casing. Previously, this would have required a trip back to the office and computations of coordinates. Instead, I just opened the project, shot a known point, checked another known point and then opened the CAD file. I was then able to set island locations by picking points straight out of the CAD drawing. The contractor was duly impressed. (Of course we charged appropriately.)

A Minor Minus

What is lacking in Fieldworks? Time stamps and printing of job header information in all generated files would be nice.

Figure 5. Any location of a CAD drawing can be selected and its distances computed.

The Final Grade

The final verdict: Fieldworks alone is a great software. Add PocketCAD 4.0 and you’ll have an unbeatable combination. Consider that with the Pocket PC, PocketCAD, support for robotics and GPS, the price is approximately one third or less that of similar packages without near the performance. My current software may be up for sale.