Our quick poll in February received a record amount of responses; we'd like to share the following comments with you.
My belief is that the total station can encompass all the listed technologies including GPS (e.g., Leica total station with top-mount GPS). The exception would be HDS laser scanning; however, a laser scanner acts as a total station in that it acquires and collects points on a larger scale or collects a large quantity of data. The total station by far is the king of all surveying tools because there is a strong interface between operator and machine. The total station can collect data [and] perform COGO and other calculations a surveyor might use. In addition, total stations have EDM capabilities. If not for the total station, we would not have most of the new technologies that exist today.
I think most of the guys (gals) surveying today are too young to remember the days of using logarithms in the field (how slow) or the advent of the Curta calculator-a step up from the Monroe with its electric motors and clankety-clank. Everything else we're using today seems to have evolved from them. For many years previously there were no significant changes at all.
I'm going to have to agree that the PC has the most impact. All of the tools listed have made an impact without a doubt. I'd be lost without my robotic, my GPS or my HP48. But at the end of the day, all of my calcs and collected data get downloaded to a PC for processing and/or CAD work.
I use everything on the list with the exception of laser scann[ers] almost daily. It depends on the job. Like an earlier post said, the EDM was a huge time-saver. So is RTK where you can effectively use it. I did a job last week that involved staking three miles of sanitary manholes. It would have taken at least 10 setups with an instrument; we were done in about four hours. Or how 'bout driving a topo to save time?
Where is the choice for robotic instrument? I'd hate to work without my Trimble. It's the best instrument person I've ever had.
The electronic distance measurement had the greatest impact on the surveying industry when considering the leap forward. No longer having to chain enabled measurements across terrain that was previously impossible to traverse. What took days or weeks could be accomplished with the push of a button. The size of the survey crew was reduced. GPS had a big impact, but did not close as large a gap from the previously existing technology.
[The] ability to work solo with robotic/GPS technology was a major breakthrough.
Although I agree that the EDM was a huge step, I think that the total station did the most in that it combined the EDM and instrument into one. Remember having to put the distance meter on top and then the cables and batteries?
Well before PCs, [the] EDM was the real revolutionary item of equipment. It was the first big step in efficiency and productivity since the steel tape, but had far more impact than the tape in this regard. Against the idea of the primacy of the PC, we were running a total station-based, field-to-finish surveying system in 1976, well before the PC was thought of, using the technology of the time (including a data recorder). We had a range of surveying software running on the organization's mini-computer in 1977 (e.g., stadia reductions, level adjustment by least squares, trig leveling reductions, land-leveling computational software), again, before the PC.
The earliest PCs labored with BASIC and awful user interfaces, dismal storage and poor communications with other devices. The early 1980s was a real struggle to get things done with a PC. It was often quicker and easier to use an HP-41 and the HP-IB devices to do the job.
Simply put, other than the calculator none of the other tools would be much use without a PC.