Intuitive software helps surveyors speed field work, verify accuracy and share data in real time. 

During a topographic survey of a country club, surveyors locate, draw and view edges of pavement, the centerline, ditches, traffic markings and utilities with the touch of a button. Features are drawn in the field in real time, saving time and eliminating possible mistakes. Images courtesy of Richard E. Ward & Associates.

Clients in today’s fast-paced markets need results from surveying jobs turned around quickly and with as much detail as possible. Fortunately, with continued advances in software, surveyors are able to meet these needs while streamlining their entire surveying process.

One firm that has benefited from the feature-rich capabilities of modern software is McElhanney Geomatics in Fort St. John, B.C., Canada, which primarily handles surveying projects in the oil and gas industries. McElhanney’s survey crews have to work within tight time constraints, so the firm’s data collection solution must perform a wide range of functions right in the field in order to complete survey projects more efficiently. “When we do a large pipeline construction survey, crews may be out there for weeks and collect thousands of points and features,” says Ryan Doherty, a McElhanney surveyor. “So we need to open up what they have (in the software) and see exactly what they’re doing, what they’ve tied in, see if anything is missing. We need to see the data together and know everything is done correctly.”

A wellsite pad extension in Microsurvey CAD ready to send to FieldGenius for staking.

To achieve these goals, the company uses MicroSurvey’s FieldGenius data collection software. One of the attributes Doherty appreciates with FieldGenius is its symbolization. “I can window an area in my CAD program and send it to a crew,” he says. “When they open this on their data collector, they have the same symbols, line types, layers and coloring. They are looking in their data collector at exactly what I gave them, and they can add data and feed it back to me at my CAD software program in the office.” McElhanney Geomatics also uses MicroSurvey CAD survey drafting software, which includes point cloud manipulation and data collection interfacing.

The intuitiveness of the software makes data transfer much easier, Doherty says. The line work connectivity is a good example: No coding is needed to generate line work in the field in real time. Surveyors can have several lines with the same description because the software knows which line to work on. And the line work is all displayed in 3D, including arcs and splines. The crew can pick a buried pipe description and the software automatically starts drawing a line with the correct layer in the field. “They hit one button, and the software switches over to the next line,” he says. “It’s basically drawing a sketch for them digitally as they work. With FieldGenius, drafting begins in the field.”

Improved graphics have also increased efficiency. With 3D capabilities like those found in the digital terrain modeling feature of FieldGenius, surveyors can easily get a clear, insightful view of critical surveying details. “We use the terrain modeling a lot,” Doherty says. “For plant site construction, we’ll load in terrain models (into FieldGenius) for grades. It works really well. You send a crew in with terrain modeling and an RTK unit or total station and they can efficiently stake multiple surfaces with confidence,” Doherty adds. “You have no fear of it being incorrect.”

A FieldGenius screen capture showing features and lines collected during a municipal topographicsurvey. Images courtesy of McElhanney Geomatics.

Improvements in construction staking capabilities is one of the features Cameron Harmon, field crew party chief for Anderson, Ind.-based surveying firm Richard E Ward & Associates, appreciates the most. Ward & Associates handles commercial boundary work and ALTA surveys as well as construction preliminary surveying and construction staking. Harmon, who has used FieldGenius with two different employers, notes that FieldGenius 2012 now enables the user to prevent the display of any unwanted screens during stakeouts. This capability greatly increases the amount of points his crews are able to stake out in a given amount of time because the software requires fewer buttons to press between points. “This has cut four to five seconds per stake out of the equation,” Harmon notes. “It will stake a job as fast as you can set the stakes because you don’t have to do anything but press one button.” Staking results are instantly provided and stored automatically, allowing the user to move to the next stake.

Integration among multiple instruments is another big advantage Harmon has observed, and it’s not just that the software is compatible with other equipment. “It will connect from one instrument to another without shutting the program down, without a restart, in seconds,” Harmon emphasizes. “For example, there’s always a corner you can’t get to with GPS because the signal won’t go through trees or buildings. Nobody wants to spend a lot of time trying to switch gears to take this kind of shot.”

When the surveyors are out in the field on a surveying project–miles, maybe hours, away from the office–seeing real-time results of their work with large, easy-to-recognize icons that help the user define the type of line or figure being drawn provides valuable quality control. “Being able to see what the drawing is going to look like while you’re standing and looking at the subject of the drawing as it is created is priceless,” Harmon says.

When conducting a topographic survey, FieldGenius displays the contours as the work is done, and the software reveals any problems with the data. “If you have a bad shot, it’ll show a big depression or a big hill where neither one exists,” Harmon explains. “You can fix it right there.”

Both Doherty and Harmon agree that an improved workflow is the key benefit of recent software advances. One of the reasons McElhanney Geomatics chose FieldGenius was that the office staff used MicroSurvey CAD and were all familiar with it. Combining the two programs has yielded a seamless integration of surveying work, from field data collection to final drafting.

Doherty recalls one project that required McElhanney to conduct a topo survey of 30 kilometers of road. The survey data was to be used to design road upgrades. “Two crews were working on the project for a couple of weeks, and they tied roughly 20,000 points on the road,” Doherty says.

There was a lot of data, and massive data checking was required. Where older software would have required a substantial amount of manual operations, FieldGenius greatly simplified the process. “When the data came back to the office, the technical coordinator opened it and wondered what to do because it was complete,” he says. “Everything was joined, all the lines were there, it was in 3D.”

An as-built survey of a large house in an upscale subdivision required 400 measurements, which McMichael was able capture and seamlessly transfer in four hours using the FieldGenius software. Images courtesy of McMichael Land Surveying.

For solo surveyors, the improvements have been even more dramatic. In his one-man surveying firm of McMichael Land Surveying in New Braunfels, Texas, Fred McMichael now relies completely on FieldGenius to handle his survey data. After converting to the software in 2003, McMichael has no longer had to struggle with excessive coding required for line work and cumbersome data transfer with prior software.

The main problems McMichael sought to avoid in using a software package were lack of efficiency and too many data collection errors. On one particular project, McMichael was surveying a layout for an $800 million hospital expansion. “The layout involved 700 concrete piers, some with a 60-inch diameter, and 80 feet deep,” he recounts. “If I put a pier in the wrong place through my surveying and the client started building on it, this could be incredibly expensive to correct. This is why the data collection software’s internal computation and all the processing had to be accurate.”

With FieldGenius, McMichael was able to survey the hospital construction layout and in seconds, transfer the data back to MicroSurvey CAD seamlessly. “When performing a topographic survey, the drawing was 60 to 70 percent complete when the data was transferred to the CAD program,” he says.

Since McMichael handles construction survey projects as well as boundary/topography/specialty surveying projects, he values the 3D representation capabilities of the software when working with contours, curves, retaining walls, grade breaks, ditches and perimeters of buildings. “Whenever you get your CAD drawing and you open it up, you can cause the line work to be generated in 2D, but the software’s default, more or less, is working in 3D,” McMichael says. “The software allows me to import and see my field work, with contours, in 3D all very quickly.”

To easily move between his desktop PC and data collector, McMichael relies on the free MicroSurvey Data Exchange (MSDX) utility, which makes projects interchangeable among devices.

The increased productivity from these and other advances is increasing client satisfaction and improving the bottom line for surveying firms. When McElhanney’s field crews completed their topo road project involving 20,000 points, Doherty estimates the software reduced the office data prep and QC time from five days to two hours. Additionally, one office technician can handle a workload that used to take four using a different software configuration, Doherty says.

Harmon of Richard E Ward & Associates says FieldGenius is filling a productivity gap that occurred when a CAD technician recently left the firm. “We started fully using the software, which was purchased shortly before the technician’s departure, and in less than a month we were right back up to production, even with one guy out of the picture,” Harmon says.

With features like intuitive functionality and the seamless integration of field-to-office data collection, the right software is an important tool in any surveyor’s arsenal. “Data is easy to QC, and because it’s in a DWG file, it’s easy to roll into our drafting department,” Doherty says of FieldGenius. “We can generate a plan and send the data back to the field for stakeout easily. It’s all about the workflow.”

For more information about FieldGenius software, visit

FieldGenius Functionality

•          Code-free line work and “tap to survey” functionality. Users can create automated line work without entering codes. Line work is instantly displayed updated. “Tap to survey” functions enable shooting/storing and editing points and line work as well as stakeout. Users execute their desired function with a simple tap of the screen, then move to the next function.

•          Advanced display with high-definition graphics and intuitive interface. The software features logical icons, customizable toolbars, smart objects, and straightforward GPS and total station controls.

•          Advanced roading, surfacing, slope staking, smart points, DXF and LandXML import/export, and full robotic and GPS support. The staking tools help users stake points along alignments.

•          Single tap functionality for creating a digital terrain model (DTM) for surfaces and modeling on the data collector, which is updated in real time as the user works.

•          Easy data transfer using DXF and LandXML import/export and RW5 files for raw data.

•          Customizable productivity tasks. Users can customize their data collector by assigning commands to keypad keys.

•          Hardware compatibility. FieldGenius works with nearly every GPS receiver, handheld data collector and total station.

•          Calculating tools. An RPN calculator is built in for use from any edit field.

GIS Data Mapping

Advanced software integrated with the latest mobile technology can provide surveyors with powerful new capabilities. One example is the latest data collector being distributed by MicroSurvey, the Scepter SCP1 GIS Data Mapper, which has a cellular modem and allows users to work easily with maps and large datasets in the field. Doherty, who tested out the new tool, said that the internal GPS works smoothly. Because it’s integrated with FieldGenius, the data mapping device allows the user to attach photos to data points. Doherty also noted that for surveyors working in cold climates--such as the frequently subzero Canadian surveying locales--the Scepter’s screen works just fine.