History of Technologies in Survey

The practice of surveying dates back to 3000 BC when the Egyptians had to re-establish farmland boundaries after the flooding of the Nile. Land surveying methods were also used in the construction of the Great Giza Pyramid. Today, land surveying is a sophisticated scientific technique that uses technology to measure and determine points on the earth’s surface.

As I approach my 25th anniversary at Sain Associates, I cannot help but marvel at the progression of surveying technologies during that time. Some of these technologies include: 

  • Robotic Total Stations –Surveying instruments that follow you as you move and provide angles and distances.

  • Global Positioning System or GPS – Provides measurements without a line of sight. 

  • Drones – These are unmanned aerial vehicles that capture data and can determine locations and elevations of a specific area. 
  • Lidar – Scanning that helps collect data from objects, buildings, surfaces, and landscapes.

One of the best examples of change in the surveying world can be seen in the evolution of GPS. According to GPS.gov, mapping and surveying functions were the first to implement GPS because it dramatically increased productivity and reliable data. GPS-based data collection is much faster than conventional surveying and mapping techniques, reducing the amount of equipment and labor required. A single surveyor can now accomplish in one day what once took the entire team weeks to do.

In October 1996, Sain acquired its first GPS unit. As a rodman, it took hours of processing to achieve a measurement between points. Several years passed and I later became party chief. During that time, we began to use Real Time Kinematics (RTK) GPS, which provided instant measurements between points. This process still required that you have access to a point with a known location. Later, as I moved into a management role, technology shifted and we connected to a Continuously Operating Reference Station, also known as a CORS network. Using CORS allows our surveyors access to instant measurements and provides a location without using a known point. This was critical to our surveying methods as it dramatically reduced the time needed to acquire field data.

These new technologies have significantly increased the ease and speed of surveying in the last 25 years. Whether it’s GPS, drones, or lidar scanning, the result is a better product for our clients. I am grateful to Sain for having the opportunity to lead the charge in implementing these new technologies for our clients.