JAVAD GNSS: A Surveyor’s Perspective

February 24, 2022  - By
Shawn billingS, RPLS, reinvests some of his profits in surveying gear, like this JAVAD GNSS unit. (Photo: Rebecca Billings)

Shawn Billings, RPLS, reinvests some of his profits in surveying gear, like this JAVAD GNSS unit. (Photo: Rebecca Billings)

By Shawn Billings  
RPLS, Proprietor, Pendulum Surveying and Dealer

The AEC industry relies on surveyors to be a bridge between the existing landscape and the design landscape. Surveyors have been providing virtual reality for centuries, albeit in a mostly analog way, until very recently.

Imagine that a school board needs a new school. It describes the need to an architectural or civil engineering company, which develops a conceptualized plan. Next, it is time to figure out how to adapt this rough concept to the real world. Will the school fit within the boundaries of its district’s property? How will it access public rights-of-way? Can the current roads accommodate the traffic it will bring? How will the school access utilities? How will the building impact existing stormwater drainage? How do various data collected by others (such as geotechnical and wetlands delineation) fit into the site plan?

The data collected by the surveyor inform the designer, usually in the form of a map — historically on paper, but now in digital form. Most designers want the key features extracted rather than a dense point cloud, so it is important for surveyors to be able to understand what those key features are.

AEC surveying differs from boundary surveying in several ways. First, it usually requires consideration of a 3D world, not only two dimensions. Secondly, it will usually involve many thousands of points, not a few tens of points as is usually the case in boundary surveying. Third, AEC surveying will typically involve many more stakeholders. Fourth, the liability in AEC surveying will usually (but not always) be greater because of the significant costs involved.

AEC surveying can be challenging because the timeframes are typically tight, with numerous professionals involved. Surveyors will often have to wait on others one day, only to be rushed the next day once the ball moves into their court. However, the tools available to us today allow us to collect data much more quickly than we ever could before.

Today, I can carry almost everything I need to survey in a compact car—my Javad GNSS real-time kinematic (RTK) system, my robotic total station, my handheld electronic distance measuring device, my laptop computer, my smartphone (which provides internet access), my digital camera, my lidar and my photogrammetric drone, as well as the accessories needed for each device. All these devices have become more portable, more powerful, and less expensive. The gains in efficiency have reduced fieldwork by more than half over the past couple of decades, requiring fewer people and generally providing much better quality data.

Today, it is rare for a surveyor to provide paper deliverables to designers. Almost all prefer digital files, usually vector data in DWG or DGN format along with surfaces in XML format.

Recently, I have worked on several small commercial building projects. The requirements were the same for each. The initial survey includes (among other things):

  • a title boundary survey
  • the location of existing utilities and structures
  • contours at one-foot intervals
  • the delineation of the floodplain, if present on the site
  • the location of streets and other public access.
  • Once the initial survey is complete, I often set control for machine control, which heavy machinery uses to perform grading without requiring stakes. Once grading is complete, I often stake out building locations and sometimes paving.

Challenges have included working with city planners who do not always have the same sense of urgency as the project developers and designers.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned is the importance of being efficient without being in a hurry, which breeds mistakes, such as missing important details or breaching a safety protocol and causing a serious injury.

I also have learned that while technology can increase profits, it is important to reinvest some of them into improving my work product. This way, I enjoy a better return on my investment, but I also enjoy a better deliverable for my clients.

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