If you haven’t checked out an iPhone lately, you probably should—just to get an idea of where technology for the surveying profession is headed. Fast, versatile and easy to use, the popular smartphone is setting a new standard for data management.
It’s a standard that Ray O’Connor, president and CEO of Topcon Positioning Systems (TPS) and a senior managing executive officer within Topcon Corp., is determined to emulate. “Our focus is on the user in the field and making it simpler to use the sensors—GPS receivers, total stations, scanners, machine control—collect the data, and make a deliverable out of it,” he says. “We coordinate and interface with a tremendous amount of software players in the market and also focus our own software development efforts on making it easy to move data—making it simple, like an iPhone, to collect and transfer data and manage your application.”
As an example, O’Connor points to Topcon’s Magnet software. Introduced in October 2011 and included as a standard offering with the latest Topcon and Sokkia-branded instruments, Magnet is a cloud-based solution that allows real-time collaboration between field crews, office personnel, project managers, engineers and consultants. O’Connor says Magnet has been received extremely well, primarily because of how it streamlines workflow. “When you’re taking a shot and you’re not sure, you can get on the phone and have the data in front of the CAD person at the computer in the office or the engineer that you’re working with and get instantaneous feedback; you don’t have to worry about coming back out to the site because you took some wrong measurements,” O’Connor says. “It’s a tremendous productivity increase. All you need is a cell phone connection.”
The cloud aspect of the technology is just starting to catch on, but O’Connor expects it to accelerate in the near future. “Once you become comfortable with the idea of the cloud and understand that it’s very secure, then the adoption rate gets much faster because moving information back and forth becomes so simple,” he says. “The cloud and the transfer of data back and forth is going to be a big change in the profession. There’s a definite movement. The benefits far outweigh the risk factors that people are concerned about.”
Hardware is also becoming more versatile and easier to use. Topcon’s IP-S2 HD mobile mapping system, for example, accurately maps 1.35 to 1.4 million points per second at highway speeds. “The computing power to deal with massive amounts of data and to be able to process it and create a deliverable has changed dramatically,” O’Connor says. “So the improvements in computing power, the sensors that can measure that level of data and the level of accuracy that can be achieved are changing the way we do things.”
The end result of all these technology advances is that the measurement of assets is becoming ubiquitous. “Whether you own a road, a building or a pipeline, you have to have the measurement data to analyze and manage the site,” O’Connor says. “You couldn’t do that effectively even five years ago; the computing power and sensors weren’t there. So I see that as a tremendous area of growth and opportunity for surveyors.”
Likewise, an increasing interest in 3D mapping and virtual reality is almost certain to drive demand for accurate data. As technology continues to advance, new applications will undoubtedly emerge.
“Surveyors are just tremendous at managing quality, high precision data,” O’Connor says. “The opportunities are endless, but you have to see them—you have to see where the business is going.”