The flow of new technology in the surveying sector continues with an almost constant stream of additions and improvements. From total stations to remote controlled aerial drones, contractors have never had so many tools available help them record accurate survey information.
Since contractors often undertake precision surveying tasks with the help of global navigational satellite system (GNSS)-enabled devices, ensuring that the latest products are 'future proof' is a major focus.
Devices must be able to use current systems like the US Global Positioning System (GPS) signal and Russian GLONASS system, but also be ready to receive signals that are due to come online in the future, such as the proposed European Galileo network and perhaps China's Beidou/Compass system.
As such, the latest trends for surveying equipment involve making devices as compatible with the latest communications software as possible to allow the transfer of data remotely and quickly from anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, increasing power and accuracy, and a focus on compact and robust designs are other on-going areas of attention.
Leica Geosystems, for instance, this year introduced the Leica intelligent construction (iCON) range - described as a portfolio of tailor-made positioning and measuring solutions for construction professionals.
This includes a range of iCONstruct hardware and software for positioning and measuring tasks on site, including the five-model Leica Builder range of total stations. Also under the iCON umbrella is iCONtrol, which provides communication between construction personnel on site and a comprehensive portfolio of devices, iCON site, which focusses on the engineering and infrastructure segment, and Leica iCON build, a software package that has also been developed to integrate with any of iCONstruct sensors and controllers.
Most recently, Leica added machine control panels to its iCONstruct portfolio -iCON excavate and iCON grade devices are panels for use in 2D and 3D grading applications. Both devices can interface with Leica's iCONnect software, which enables connection of the system to a network via wireless data transfer.
Bernd Moeller, Leica construction positioning product manager, explained that the manufacturer was seeking to adapt to changes in the construction industry, and offer customers a way of making life easier.
"You do not need to be a specialist surveyor to use these products," Mr Moeller said. "The iCON range is targeted at everyday construction workers, foremen and non-professionals.
With iCON you dodn't need to think about the sensors and technology - the algorithms work in the background and lots of processes are automated. We have solved these technical things so the non-professional worker can definitely work with this type of equipment."
Mr Moeller said the idea of iCONstruct was to increase the portfolio over time to cover other market segments. "Our customers are enthusiastic about the products," he said. "The iCON field software is actually what the customers really love - the way you can navigate within the software supports their daily work. They also liked the way we integrate our measurement sensors into the software, the way they react to the software and the software speaks to them."
But all this powerful modern hardware and software generates a huge amount of data, and it is conceivable that customers could be swamped with information and struggle to analyse what is important.
Mr Moeller said the subject of data volumes was certainly a hot one. "We need to make sure that our software can cope with both the quantity and quality of data. I'm convinced that in future more and more data will be available on site containing more information than today, and so customers will require fewer conversion steps, or steps involved in the chain of delivering the data.
You could image, for instance, that in the future, once someone starts building a house they could get not just an XYZ position of the wall but also information about the thickness of the wall instantly, without needing hours of analysis. iCON builds the platform for such future improvements."
Meanwhile Topcon, which celebrated its 80th anniversary on 1 September, has also seen a very active year in terms of network developments and product launches.
The latest products include the Tesla RTK rover system from. This GNSS network rover boasts a 5.7 in (145 mm) colour touchscreen display and has been designed with harsh outdoor conditions in mind.
The controller is also compatible with Topcon's new Magnet field software - technology which allows data to be exchanged in a remote 'cloud'. Topcon' s new PS Series total station, which it launched at the end of August, also features the Magnet software.
The PS also uses Topcon's new PowerTrac technology to increase its prism tracking power. Leighton Davies, survey products sales manager for Topcon Europe Positioning explained, "Using new optics, laser system and advanced algorithms, PowerTrac provides the PS with the ability to keep tracking a moving prism even under the toughest environmental conditions.
"The PS has an extremely fast and powerful electronic distance measurement and with the new Magnet software on board, each PS total station is ready of both one-man and two-man field operations."
Other technology in the device includes Topcon's TSshield telematics-based communications module, which allows the instrument to be tracked over the Internet, among other applications. Topcon's Long Link software also gives the device a 600 m wireless communication range, allowing full operation of the PS from the prism pole using the Topcon RC-5 remote system, field controller or Topcon Tesla tablet.
Other new devices from Topcon include the Hiper SR GNSS real-time kinematic (RTK) receiver, which is claimed to be the most compact and lightweight design of any fully integrated precision receiver on the market, and the new OS Series of total stations, which target a mid-range engineering grade portfolio. The OS Series also boast Topcon's Long Link, TS Shield and Magnet software.
Meanwhile Sokkia, a brand owned by Topcon, has released two new total stations this year - the SX Series and the FX Series - and sophisticated software is also a key feature of these devices.
Both new total stations feature Topcon's Magnet and TS Shield software, while the SX Series also boasts high-accuracy robotic technology including an accurate auto-tracking system.
Both the SX and FX total stations also feature Sokkia's Red-Tech electronic distance measurement (EDM) technology - an advanced angle measurement system that provides a tight beam signal and strong returns from difficult surfaces, including dark and wet surfaces.
Finally, Topcon has also reorganised its global GNSS services this year after developing a new brand - TopNET live - to offer subscription based, real-time GNSS network RTK and differential GNSS services.
Compatible with all current GPS and GLONASS correction data, and designed to be compatible with future GNSS signals, TopNET live reference networks are said to deliver high quality, accurate, real-time data. The service is available throughout Europe and North America, and was expanded to include coverage for Poland in September this year.
Trimble has also had a busy year. It acquired surveying equipment manufacturer Ashtech at the end of last year, and has integrated Ashtech's products into its own Spectra Precision portfolio of survey devices.
Trimble's latest new product is the Spectra Precision QM75 Quick Measure distance meter - a handheld laser distance measurer that provides a bright laser spot to measure hard-to-reach places, such as high overheads, factory interiors, or over water up to
70 m away.
The Spectra Precision UL633, meanwhile, was launched at the start of the year. The UL633 is an automatic self-levelling laser, and is said to be the first construction laser allowing total automatic control of all three axes (X/Y/Z). Control of the Z axis is accomplished through the new "fan beam" technology, while control of the X and Y axes is achieved through a dual radio connection.
With its rugged design, the UL633 is also said to be able to survive a drop of up to 1 m on to concrete, as well as being moisture and dust sealed.
The company has also developed a new antenna for providing high accuracy site measurements - the Trimble SPS985. The device is said to be robust enough to cope with construction site conditions and also boasts an internal shock isolation system, making it well suited for high-vibration use on site trucks.
User-friendly features such as a quick release connector and smartphone configuration are said to make the SPS985 easy to deploy and use as a base station or rover, mounted on a range pole or truck roof. The receiver also boasts advanced communications technology including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and optional wideband radio.
As well as developing general site tools, Trimble has also been concentrating on specialist applications and has introduced new software specifically targeting tunneling contractors. Trimble's SCS900 Site Controller Software Tunneling Module operates on the Trimble Tablet and works with the Trimble SPS930 universal total station to allow contractors to monitor progress in real-time.
The module uses Trimble's Business Center - HCE tunnelling tools which allow it to handle complex design and measurement files, including multi-million point 'cloud' files, and accommodate drilling and blasting operations.
Other manufacturers have also focussed on developing new surveying devices and technology specifically for the tunnelling and underground construction sectors.
Meanwhile, mobile mapping systems are also being constantly upgraded. The new StreetMapper vehicle-mounted surveying device from 3D Laser Mapping and IGI has delivered significant efficiency savings for Dutch surveying company Geomaat, for instance.
The company is said to have captured millimetre accurate measurements in record times to support a range of highway design, construction and maintenance projects using StreetMapper.
Managing director of Geomaat, Jolle Jelle, said he saved up to 50% on costs by using the StreetMapper. "In the past, a 10 km stretch of highway would have taken at least 20 nights to survey, each night requiring extensive traffic management or road closures. The resulting measurements would then have taken about a week to process. Using StreetMapper we can deliver a new design, from start to finish, in less than a week," he said.
StreetMapper was designed for the rapid 3D mapping of highways, runways, railways, infrastructure and buildings. Using vehicle-mounted lasers offering a 360o field of view, the device enables high precision mapping to a range of 300 m, a capacity of 550,000 measurements per second per sensor and recorded accuracies of better than 10 mm.
Arial surveying is another growing field for manufacturers of mobile mapping equipment. Bluesky has launched a fast response aerial survey service using state-of-the-art unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones, for instance.
The technology, originally developed by the military, includes Artificial Intelligence (AI) guided autopilot, high resolution integrated camera and rechargeable propulsion system.
Bluesky said that autonomous take-off and landing ensured the system was easy to use and that with a wingspan of less than
1 m it could be easily transported without the need for complex assembly.
The company highlighted large scale construction sites as key potential applications of the UAVs, which would allow surveying at regular intervals or predetermined points in time, providing data for project management, reporting and funding.
And with just one or two aerial devices required for any site, it's easy to see how savings could be made.
All this new technology in the field of surveying is representative of a concerted effort by manufacturers to make the process of gathering data and making calculations more simple and efficient.
A clear industry-wide aim is emerging - to speed up and improve the accuracy of the equipment for use by both professional surveyors as well as construction workers without specialist training.