From restoring the boundaries between fields in the Nile River valley during the time of the Pharaohs to supporting the work of the Roman engineers that built the Appian Way, surveyors were a fundamental part of early cultures. They fulfilled needs to demarcate property boundaries, conduct reconnaissance and make maps for planning. They planned, monitored and archived the details of construction projects, and provided a host of other services and products that involved measuring and depicting the earth’s surface with the natural, built and planned environments.
Over the last half century, technologies such as the EDM, electronic data collection and computation, robotic total stations and GPS have changed the paradigms related to surveying fieldwork. But the changing role of the surveyor was barely evident until the advent of machine control. Today, the active control of machines using RTK GPS, robotic total stations and lasers is common in construction, mining and agriculture. Construction machines such as dozers, graders, excavators and even pavers have become massive position sensors. The concept has radically changed the surveyor’s role in construction projects, from initial investigations to the as-built as well as in the maintenance and rehab stages.
Surveyors previously were needed to set grade and alignment stakes to provide guidance for the heavy equipment operators; now the surveyor’s value lies in supporting construction through planning processes used by construction organizations. Today, the surveyor’s role includes communication with various stakeholders including engineers, architects, planners, local government, landowners, utility service providers and others, sometimes well in advance of breaking ground.
The surveyor’s new function has transformed to that of geo-data manager, creating or verifying the digital terrain and design models that are placed in the machine. The surveyor’s activities also include monitoring progress, field checking the work as it occurs, updating changes to the model as a result of inevitable design revisions, and ensuring the creation of complete and accurate “as-built” documents to serve the project life-cycle. Though not grasped by all, these activities represent the modern surveyor’s principal role in construction. Other activities include setting up calibration systems and processes to ensure that machines accurately create the desired design; managing on-site communications to ensure that all machines are using the correct version of the terrain and design models; monitoring each individual machine’s performance; and providing input into the project’s building information model (BIM).
Another key technology is GIS. Far more than “mere” mapping or simply providing survey data to the GIS professional to become part of an accurate and appropriate base map, GIS for surveyors means being an active part of the broad spectrum of GIS activities. Such activities include creating, populating and maintaining a GIS, and using it as a tool to manage the natural and built environment as well as the cadastre.
Technology will play an even greater role in the future of the surveying profession. Developments such as terrestrial, mobile and airborne scanning, digital photogrammetry and remote sensing have enabled the collection of more complete data, speedier field campaigns and nearly instantaneous data analysis. Software solutions are constantly being improved to furnish more solutions to niche applications. These systems--focused on acquiring and managing position data--are supplemented by an array of adjacent technologies. For example, surveying systems can be coupled with mobile phone and Internet access, cloud computing and Web-based geodatabases. This combination adds a range of products to the surveyor’s information set, including control data and information, visible, infrared and multi-spectrum imaging products of the earth, obliquely-sensed aerial data, cadastral information and regional mapping products. As a result, the surveyor (now the geo-data manager) can combine information and techniques to meet the needs of the entire project, or a tiny part of it.
Not all non-surveyors will engage in their own data collection operations merely to save cost. Engineers and natural scientists, who need to collect their own monitoring or verification data, often work with surveying instrumentation. Experts in disciplines such as accounting, risk management and facilities management may have an interest in survey data as well.
A key challenge for the surveyor, even with well-developed technology to assist, will be in communicating the information to the users. Surveyors can present information using a variety of media including static and dynamic visualizations. In addition to 3D representations, data displays can incorporate other dimensions such as cost, profitability, schedule and levels of project risk.
Understanding and embracing these changes is not enough. Individual surveyors, and the societies they belong to, must collaborate with academia, government and industry to achieve common goals and benefits. Together, they need to reinforce the proposition that surveyors are the geo-data managers of the future--and that tomorrow’s professionals are prepared for the challenge through education, training and professional development.