The year is 2020. You arrive at your jobsite, pull a handheld device out of your pocket, verify a few coordinates and press a few keys on the touchscreen. 

You then move over a few feet and press a few more keys. Several more clicks and an hour or so later, you put the device back in your pocket and head to your client’s office. With the touch of a button, you’ll be able to transmit a full set of customized deliverables from the centralized geodatabase at your office directly to your client’s workstation. All measurements are accurate to within 20 centimeters--no ground control required.

Does the idea seem a bit far-fetched? It shouldn’t. In fact, the process may even be simpler. According to David Doyle, chief geodetic surveyor for the NGS, the near future is beyond anything most of us can imagine.

In a recent seminar on State Plane Coordinates and Datum Transformations in Novi, Mich., hosted by Ferris State University’s Burt and Mullet student chapter of ACSM, Doyle said that by 2020, 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. That’s a far cry from the 3 to 8 meter vertical accuracy that can be achieved today.

What do these developments mean for surveyors? For starters, Doyle said, surveyors need to stop thinking GPS and start thinking GNSS. Additional satellite launches by the United States, Russia, the European Union and China will continue to improve positioning. Within the decade, as many as 120 satellites might be available. “Imagine being able to go outside, turn on your receiver and instantly access 22 satellites within a few nanoseconds,” Doyle said. It’s within the realm of possibility. As a result, understanding the national and global reference frame is critical.

Parcel maps with state plane coordinates will begin to incorporate velocity to address the fact that all of the values (latitude, longitude, height, scale, gravity and orientation) change with time. And all types of metadata--the underlying data that are needed to correctly interpret the data being collected--will become increasingly important as surveyors think about how their data might be used in the future. A basic survey will no longer be limited to the current parameters; instead, it will transcend time to provide vital information that will guide land use and development far into the future.

The future starts now, and the world of data collection and dissemination is changing before our eyes. Imagination is a key resource for anyone who wants to succeed in this new environment.

That’s why I have so much respect for people like Clay Wygant, of WHPacific Inc., featured in this month’s cover story on page 18. Wygant is not content to sit on the sidelines waiting to see what’s going to happen next. Instead, he constantly tries to imagine what the next opportunity might be and then forges ahead to make it a reality. The word “can’t” doesn’t seem to exist in his vocabulary. I’m equally impressed with people like Mike Harrison, of Diamond West Inc., who are continually pushing themselves, their firms--and even their clients--to the next level by learning as much as they can about emerging technologies and finding ways to implement them. (See the story on page 22.)

As technology changes the surveying profession and the world by making accurate data increasingly easier to access, the need for experts who can interpret those data and understand how to best utilize them continues to grow. Some processes will inevitably become obsolete, and new opportunities will emerge. But a forward-thinking attitude fueled by imagination, optimism and a thirst for knowledge will position you for success whatever the future holds.

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