Evolution of Surveying Techniques

Evolution of Surveying Techniques

The purpose of surveying has remained somewhat the same over time: establishing boundaries, creating maps for navigation, and developing land. While the purposes of surveying remain constant, the tools used to accomplish them have evolved dramatically with human advancement. Our Texas professional surveying company utilizes a variety of tools to capture the most precise measurements.

Examples of surveying techniques exist throughout human history. Ancient tribesman used ropes and pegs to plan out where structures were to be built. For early mapping, usually existing physical monuments such as rivers, mountains, and forests marked borders between tribal territories and kingdoms. As societies grew and it became important to determine what land belonged belong to which group, natural boundaries no longer sufficed by themselves. Man-made boundaries such as cornerstones, walls, and lines of latitude and longitude become commonplace markers both on maps and in the physical world to establish boundaries.

The increase in human population meant that infrastructure such as homes, bridges, and roads needed to be built on land that wasn’t always flat, or suitable for structures in its natural elevation. Thus, surveying the elevations of the land and the distance in these elevations became essential for land development.
Advancements in instrumentation and mathematics made these man-made markers and infrastructure expansion possible. It transformed the accuracy of land surveying from rough estimates to precise measurements. The Egyptians and Romans both used variations of a tool called a Groma that allowed them to mark out right angles and straight lines for use in developing fields, towns, and roads. Although good at marking out two-dimensional angles, the elevation component—that is, the distance in the height of two points—was a somewhat more imprecise measure until the 15th century with the implementation of the Theodolite, which measures horizontal angles. Combined with the concepts of trigonometry, that is the study of the relationships between angles and their lengths, surveyors could accurately measure both the difference in distance and elevation between two points.

The theodolite, which significantly advanced over the next hundred years through technology, maintained its status as the primary tool for surveying into the 20th century. At the end of the 20th century, robotic total stations and GPS base stations that connect to satellites have greatly advanced the accuracy and speed of the collection of survey data. The GPS base station connects to a satellite which establishes its point on the GPS grid and records it. The robotic total station is set up in a fixed position, and automatically records the field surveyor as they move from point to point. Additionally, software advancements have changed the way surveys are drawn, from handwritten maps and plots, and software programs that layer in various levels of information to form one final product.

As the 21st century evolves, 3D laser scanning and use of lidar allows for every physical point within visible distance to be recorded, both on the surface of the land and vertically, such as trees, buildings, and utility lines. Additionally, mobile mapping allows for survey data to be recorded while in transit, for use in mapping landfill surveys and transportation surveys. The use of drones and drone surveying, which use photogrammetry to perform surveys, is also used as that technology becomes widely available. This allows surveyors to record vast expanses and terrain that is not easy to traverse.

The survey tools used over time have progressed alongside human technology, and with each advancement, they improve the accuracy and speed at which surveying can be done. At Windrose, our Houston surveyors are proud to use a variety of instruments in order to obtain the most accurate measurements possible.

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Windrose Land Services began offering a full-range of surveying expertise and quality, providing excellence in land surveying and mapping services to meet the demands of a flourishing Houston area for 25 years.

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