The work of the land surveyor is to gather data in the field, using precise measurement instruments, to ultimately produce a graphic and legal description of property. This information is gathered, mapped, recorded and then, re-gathered, re-mapped and rerecorded as the ownership of, characteristics of and laws governing land ownership and management change. These days, it is hard to imagine this process being done without the assistance of computers. However, it is only in the past 25 years that automated tools and software for land surveying have truly emerged.
Beginning with CAD (computer-aided drafting/computer-aided design) and data collection software in the 1980s, and continuing up to today with GIS (geographical information systems) and GPS (global positioning system), developments has come fast. Hardware technology, like wide format scanners and printers, has also become more accessible, resulting in the further development of software to interface with them. Although computerized plotters and coordinate data processing preceded it, Carlson Software, founded in 1983, is considered an early pioneer in the area of software for land surveying employing CAD technology.
Each step in the process has been automated. The state of technology in the field today offers the total station, which includes an electronic theodolite and an EDM (electronic distance meter). Though some manual tools are still employed today, the advantage of total station is that the data is captured in the measurement process and stored either on board or on a hand held device. When field data collection is complete, the data is downloaded to a software system which then generates a map.
With an underlying CAD graphics engine to support it, land survey software takes data gathered in the field and enables the operator to generate detailed 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional maps and drawings depicting the results of the survey. This data may be integrated with coordinate data stored in spreadsheets and other data from GIS databases, as well as aerial photographs and geological information to generate the desired end product. The value of software in this realm is increased with the breadth of file format compatibility and interoperability with related software applications. Partnerships, such as the one between Carlton software and Autodesk, the organization behind AutoCAD, are common and growing.
Land surveying software features include is the ability to link or correlate deed/title document images and data, whether scanned or stored as an object in another database. If you can view the map and supplement the interpretation of data, symbols and geometric forms with the actual legal or physical forms it describes only a click away, better and faster decisions or analysis can be supported. Civil Engineering applications for land surveying software offer features that ensure that as road design data is entered it is checked against industry and user-defined standards. With this feature, automatic notations and corrections are made in the design process.
Free downloads are available for land surveying applications. Like all “freeware,” these should be approached cautiously with virus scanning software and other security precautions. Perform due diligence research in online communities for land surveying professionals for any free application you are considering. Professional land surveying software systems available from reputable software vendors is a considerable investment. Direct electronic download of a foundation system such as AutoCAD 2010, including a subscription to updates and support, runs just under $4,500 from AutoDesk. Carlson Field 2009 featuring real-time GPS and total station data collection and direct integration to the CAD (either AutoCAD or Carlson’s own IntelliCAD) will run $3,000. The best savings for software can be found in the purchase of suites, incorporating everything from the total station component through the GIS.
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