Like many surveyors, Ralph Nieto has a love-hate relationship with technology. As the co-owner of a small surveying firm in Lake Mary, Fla., Nieto strives to be efficient and professional on every job, if not always on the leading edge. But he’s also not afraid to take the plunge when the time is right. “Investing in new technology is one of those things you dread, but you know you have to do it, so you do,” he says. “Then afterward you find all the things you love about it, and you’re happy.”
The company’s new GPS equipment is a good case in point. When Nieto and his partner, Daniel Whittaker, founded Nieto Whittaker Surveying in 2009, the two surveyors relied primarily on their 40-plus years of combined experience and a total station to establish a quality reputation for surveying distressed properties. Becoming certified in 2010 as a minority owned business allowed the firm to begin securing work on government contracts. There was just one problem: Many of these contracts were on state plane coordinates, which required GPS. “We had already been contemplating GPS and checking out the various systems,” Nieto says. “We just had to move past our hesitation and make the investment.”
The Carlson Supervisor+ GPS, introduced in January 2012, was an attractive option. Nieto and Whittaker already knew they liked the Carlson brand; after purchasing Carlson’s IntelliCAD-based software in 2010 for data collection, analysis and design, they had been pleased with the results. The Supervisor+ GPS had an impressive Novatel 615 GNSS receiver, which could be configured to provide dual-frequency RTK GNSS, hot-swappable batteries that boasted 12 hours of runtime, as well as a 2-megapixel camera with streaming video capabilities. But what Nieto really liked about the system was the integrated tablet computer. The Microsoft Windows 7.0 Ultimate operating system with an Intel 1.6 gigahertz processor, 64 gigabyte solid-state hard drive and 7-inch wide, daylight-viewable screen would allow the surveyors to use files and programs in the field that previously had only been accessible in the office.
“We were having to duplicate a lot of work to come up with a library for one form of data collector and then do it again for our CAD platform, and it just didn’t make sense for a small firm like ours to be working through it that much,” he says. “The cost of the Supervisor+ GPS system was in line with a lot of the other GPS products out there. We liked the tablet—the fact that it had PC capabilities and integrated with all their other software. So we thought it would be great to go field-to-finish.”
In the spring of 2012, the firm was subcontracted as part of a team led by Southeastern Surveying and Mapping Corp., based in Orlando, Fla., to provide services for a GIS study for stormwater structures for the City of Orlando. This project gave Nieto and Whittaker the confidence they needed to buy the new system.
Nieto immediately found things to love about the equipment. “Like everybody who goes to GPS, we’re saving time,” he says. “What we like about the tablet is that we’re able to precalc a lot of our work and export the linework DXF files into the tablet so that it becomes part of the background map for what we’re staking out. By using an aircard, we can go on the Internet and pull information from county websites, access our emails and open up files. It’s been a huge leap in productivity for us.”
Having GPS technology has allowed Nieto and Whittaker to take on more municipal work and speed their turnaround time on deliverables. The tablet also provides GIS capabilities through Esri’s ArcGIS software, which is a tool the two surveyors are just beginning to implement. Nieto is also eyeing new apps and cloud services. “We’ve actually gotten fairly busy and haven’t had a chance to explore all the possibilities,” Nieto says. “That’s what’s exciting, because every time you scratch the surface of something you know there’s still another 90 percent to go.”
Nieto acknowledges that a laptop computer would have provided many of the same advantages, but he was reluctant to bring a laptop into the field. The rugged, integrated tablet with its large screen, Windows operating system, familiar software and online connectivity has provided an easy-to-use, versatile solution that is opening the door to other developments for the small surveying firm.
“Overcoming our hesitation and making the investment—that’s been the biggest challenge,” Nieto says. “Now that we’re using it a lot and finding all these extra capabilities, we want to get to the next level of survey work and expand our services and client base. I think that points us toward future investments and technology.”