It takes more than measurements. While technologies such as GNSS, robotic total stations, scanners and imaging have proven their capabilities many times over, they can’t stand alone. Their value is realized only when sensors are combined with field software that directs the process of collecting and managing the measured data. Whether running onboard an instrument or on a handheld controller or tablet, field software is a key component of productivity in both field and office.

Field operations are cost-intensive components of geospatial work. Expenses for personnel, equipment, vehicles and even wireless data access fees add up in a hurry. As a result, investments to improve field productivity can pay off quickly.

The gains in productivity come from three directions. First, the ability to make measurements efficiently is essential. This efficiency stems from the speed of measurement sensors—fast total station measurements, RTK and scanning—along with streamlined workflows.

The second component of productivity is the smooth exchange of field data with the office. This includes efficient download of office-ready field data as well as the exchange of data and designs via wireless communications.

The third component is the confidence that work is complete and correct before leaving a site. Good field software can catch and resolve many problems in the field before they can affect the office processing.

Field software serves as the platform for all three components of productivity. Well-designed field software guides efficient operations in the field and delivers clean datasets to the office software. This is accomplished through a tightly integrated solution in which the software has detailed control of field instruments and enables users to take advantage of the unique capabilities of the various types of sensors. It’s the field software that makes it easy to switch to the most appropriate technology for a given situation.

Merging Measurements

The process to capture and manage data varies widely among the different field technologies. For example, the procedure to initialize an RTK survey is much different from the steps to set up and orient a total station. But both procedures share a common objective, which is to ensure that all points are collected using a suitable reference frame, enabling the user to see the data in the field regardless of how the points are measured.

Instrument setup options in Trimble Access
Instrument setup options in Trimble Access

Specialized control for GNSS (top) and total stations. Once underway, displays for setting out and data collection provide consistent appearance regardless of sensor.

Once the sensor is initialized, the user should be able to follow a single workflow. The field processes to collect and identify points should be—so far as practical—consistent and independent from the type of sensor used. Likewise, workflows for setting out and quality control should be sensor neutral. The field software provides the hub for all sensors and tasks.

It’s easy to see the benefits of this approach. A consistent software environment and workflow can significantly reduce the need for training and reduce the practice of using specialized field personnel. It also offers faster switchover between sensors to meet changing conditions in the field.

Trimble® Access™ software provides a good example of how a software hub helps users adapt to changing technology. For years, Trimble Access served as a common platform for surveying using manual and robotic total stations as well as post-processed and real-time GNSS. As total stations and rovers gained imaging capabilities, Trimble Access helped users incorporate photographs into field datasets.

Field software evolves as new technologies emerge. By blending new solutions into existing familiar user interfaces, the software delivers a shorter learning curve and smooth data flow from the new field sensors into office and downstream software.

For example, through its support of the Trimble SX10™ scanning total station, the software has enabled organizations to add scanning to their normal workflows. In addition to the scanning process, support for the SX10 includes using the built-in plummet camera to capture images of occupied survey marks. It’s a good way to document field work and provides a strong example of the tight integration possible between field software and instruments.

The Center of Action

With the ability to handle multiple types of sensors, it’s possible to leverage the field software to serve as a platform for more specialized applications. Because of Trimble’s intimate knowledge of the various measurement technologies, it is positioned to produce streamlined, high-productivity workflows for particular markets and applications.

A good example is road construction. During initial stages of construction, GNSS offers speed and precision suitable for clearing and preliminary earthwork. As work progresses, it’s common to use total stations to provide precise positioning for final grading, paving, and curb and gutters. Trimble Access makes this changeover easy. For crews using integrated surveying with the road stakeout application, the software can combine simultaneous RTK and optical measurements. It blends the horizontal position from the RTK rover with elevation data from the total station to produce a single 3D position.

Road interchange review display

Users can review road designs in the field. Complex tasks such as stakeout can use total stations and GNSS with a common user interface.

Throughout a road project, Trimble Access provides surveyors with a consistent user interface and workflow for design surveys, setting out, and quality control. In more generic tasks such as topographic work, the ability to choose between optical, GNSS, imaging or scanning enhances a crew’s flexibility and productivity. Observations from the different sensors can be described using a single feature library to provide consistent information for engineering, cadastral work, design and GIS.

With increasing availability of wireless connection to the Internet, modern field software can simplify the task of sharing data with the office and other users. Instead of email or file transfers, software can automatically sync data to cloud-based collaboration environments that makes the information available to remote stakeholders. Similarly, design data for stakeout can be delivered directly to the on-site crews.

In geospatial markets, new technologies for measurement and positioning often attract more attention than field software. The attention is well deserved but it can be a bit distracting. When evaluating field solutions, it’s important to go beyond the hardware and take a critical look at the software that ties everything together. You may find that the heart of the system can be held in one hand.