30 years of GNSS and the surveyor

September 11, 2020  - By
Photo: Ed Koziarski for GPS World

Photo: Ed Koziarski for GPS World

Depending on your age, 30 years represents a varying opinion of time. For some, it may seem like forever; for others, it may be a blink of an eye. In respect to technology, it can represent a complete change in the way we do things.

When we turned the calendar page to January 1990, our world had yet to experience the internet, the Hubble telescope had not been deployed to share its fantastic views, and The Simpsons television series was preparing to become the cartoon juggernaut it remains today.

Yes, lots has changed since 1990, and surveying is no exception.

Most professions look back through their history and see various periods where discoveries and inventions revolutionized how the work was completed.

For surveyors, the past 30 years have contained more advancements than all other years combined, with the greatest achievement being the global navigation satellite system (GNSS). With the United States leading the way with its Global Positioning System and the civilian ability to use this measuring system, modern surveying was forever changed.

Solar and lunar observations replaced

Before the implementation of a satellite navigation system, true global navigation was only computed using solar and lunar readings under specific conditions. GPS provided a new frontier for surveyors to establish positions without having to perform traversing from known points or collecting solar/lunar observations.

As the constellation grew, it became easier to use GPS to gain initialization for accurate and redundant position determination. As processor speeds and data storage capability increased, real-time kinematic (RTK) observations became the norm for surveyors everywhere.

The Russian satellite constellation, GLONASS, began operating fully in the late 1990s, and is now included to create today’s GNSS. More satellites provide more coverage, which in turn means more data collection potential.

Many nations and regions are building their own constellations to augment the current GNSS lineup, and also to safeguard the ability to obtain geographic locations when other systems are not available.

Bathymetric surveys made easy

GNSS capability and integration revolutionized several aspects of surveying, including a new and more reliable way of performing bathymetric surveys over large bodies of water. Computerized depth sounders were programmed to coincide readings with GNSS data collection to provide a more accurate and precise method of hydrographic surveying.

The past decade has continued the reliance on GNSS technology with many more devices and applications — not just for the surveyor, but for the public as well. While surveyors are using GNSS receivers on unmanned vehicles such as UAVs and boats, satellite navigation has infiltrated into many of our everyday routines. Cellphones, fitness trackers and our automobiles use this technology to guide us to our destinations.

Surveyors have used the GNSS revolution to create a digital world for better data collection, asset management and increased efficiency. Much has changed in 30 years for the surveyor and the world around us, so we should not be surprised about what technology will bring us next.