Today's surveying office software handles massive datasets to perform complex tasks, and productivity is growing faster in the office than in the field. The difficult part is making it look easy.
In the mid-1980s, a New Hampshire civil engineer named Dave Arnold developed a series of routines to run inside a new software package named AutoCAD. Written using the LISP programming language, Arnold’s routines provided surveying and civil engineering functionality within AutoCAD’s graphic environment. His company, DCA Software (later renamed to Softdesk), brought graphical design and computation to the broad surveying market and enabled surveyors to move away from the command-driven packages that ran on mainframes or dedicated engineering workstations. In just a few years, Softdesk became the dominant developer of PC-based software for architecture, engineering and construction (AEC). Softdesk was acquired by Autodesk in 1997, and its products formed the core of Autodesk’s AEC offerings.
Around the same time (and on the other side of the continent), Steve Chou and a group of former Hewlett Packard engineers in Oregon developed a set of surveying computations to run on the venerable HP-41C calculator. The software soon moved to the HP-48, and then into the field, where the HP-48 connected directly to the emerging electronic surveying instruments known as total stations. The company, Tripod Data Systems, would become a leading provider of data collection software and hardware in the U.S.
Stories of startup companies like these repeated in North America and around the world, as software developers worked to take advantage of the steady advances in surveying and computing technology. And while geographic and professional differences were large, the objectives were similar and familiar: By utilizing software that combined positioning computations with information management, surveyors could increase their efficiency and provide more and better services to their clients. The effort to integrate survey operations in the field and office required intimate knowledge of the entire surveying process. Surveying equipment manufacturers rose to the call. Today, software plays an enabling role in modern surveying systems.