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There's a lot of discussion in the media lately about robotics (when they're not freaking out about UAVs) with particular emphasis on whether or not robots are good or bad for society, particularly their effect on the work force.

Much of the discussion centers on the near future, focuses on the negatives of robotics, and entirely misses that the land surveying industry has and is already going through this robotic revolution. I am writing an article on this subject and would appreciate your feedback on the influence of robotics in our industry- good and bad.

Related to this discussion, I came across this Popular Science article titled "THIS BRICKLAYING ROBOT CAN BUILD A HOUSE IN TWO DAYS". You can read it here:

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  • My observation is not "how many jobs have robots replaced?" but "how many jobs (companies) have robots already saved?" I'm using "robot" here is a stand-in for technology generally, GPS included. Technology, including remote deed and project research, in-house printing, voicemail, smart phones, etc., has enabled me, and others, to be incredibly productive with very few people. I have little doubt that technology has saved my company. Clients are not willing to pay overhead for both me and a large staff. Were it not for technology, I would have had to close my doors many years ago. We barely survived the housing crash as it is. I know many who didn't. Technology is a blessing that has made me far more productive and profitable that I would otherwise be, not a curse.

    • I think that’s the line of thinking that has caused our profession to increase the freefall into nonexistence.

      Technology has enabled you to replace people and potential future survey professionals with machines and lower your prices to the point that it is not profitable for other professionals to continue in the survey field. Saying that lowering your prices to perform a task is good for the profession is a shame. Business is controlled by supply and demand not price. If it takes a 3 person crew to do a job and the price comes to $3000 and all the surveyors are using a three person crew to do the work they all will probably end up similar in price. When one company decides they can purchase some new tech equipment and spend less than they could for two employees so they can do the job for $2000 they are not creating work they are simply getting less money for the same product. They are doing the work because they are charging less than their competitors not because the client would choose not to do the work if it cost the $3000 it used to.

       If all the satellites got taken out because of a solar flare that would not be the end of surveying it would simply mean that the effort would need to increase and the costs would go up.

      I think striving for the lowest cut rate prices is the wrong direction for something that is supposed to be a professional product.  

      One thing technology has done is allow a huge percentage of what used to be done by professional surveyors to be done by people that have very little qualifications.

      I am a land surveying business owner and I replaced an instrument man with a robot. Not because I wanted to but because my competitors had done the same and driven the price down to a point that an employee was more $ costly than a machine.  I think “robots” will continue to be the reason the profession is disappearing and it is now thought of more as a “trade” like mechanic or brick layer.

  • Land Surveyor
    I have not Seen a Robot yet that can find an old pipe set in 1910.
    • I don't think you are looking very hard...ground penetrating radar was used on a 150 year old "major intersection" in Adelaide, South Australia a few years ago. They produced a centimeter accuracy map of everything between 150mm and 6m below the intersection and adjacent - only 3 weeks of field took 3 years to re-cable and redirect the pipes, drains etc before they could create an underpass. Without this "Robot" it would have taken 10 years to relocate everything; this was more a case of a robot making a project possible rather than replacing manpower.

      • Land Surveyor
        So it's going to fly over that fence and find it among all the other old metal crap that looks just like it right by it...right? You will have to show me one of those "robots" because I would like to buy one.
  • Its one thing to get a robot to perform a repetitive, automated task such as bricklaying or moving containers, it's another to have one solve an ident survey or make changes in the field as they are needed. I think a long bow is being drawn here.

    • Yes! you are right but the emphasis on surveying skills in the field is important in geodetic disciplines. However, for surveying and engineering the skill set has changed dramatically since the year 2000. In many western countries the Degree in Surveying has been replaced by degrees in Geographical Resource Management....including a small section on Geodetic Survey. The legal application side of Surveying has moved to a smaller niche realm as the technology has developed into a computer based modelling system rather than plotting a set of information on the ground. I have seen complete infrastructure systems designed from a detailed topographical model produced by survey technicians then the whole virtual and completed model fed into machines controlled by the desktop design....Engineers and Surveyors only monitoring the progress with Robotic TS and/or GPS to confirm the model on the ground as built. Unfortunately, the technology is $ driven so the need for the specialist surveyor and engineer in the field will be about in many countries for another 10-15 years.

      • 1201409435?profile=original?width=721This will be a continuing challenge as automation replaces redundant tasks.  Some of us remember when a survey party included chainmen, an instrument man, and a rod man, all supervised by a party chief.  In the best of circumstances the party included a recorder for the field notebook and computers using log tables keeping the calculations current as the survey progressed.  Ah, the good old days...  Automation has gradually replaced most of the crew.  But artificial intelligence is always going to be dependent on somebody to feed the information it needs to make informed choices.  If we find a way to model every possible circumstance with an automated response then the entire field crew can be replaced with a robot.  But so long as some professional person is required to feed the robot information and supervise the integrity of the results there will be a need for at least one remaining professional on the job.  How will we prepare this professional for the work in a time when there is not a pathway of field experience to get from rod man to party chief?  It is a question for the current and future generations of surveyors to answer.  My solution is much too old fashioned.  I can remember the Wise Old Indian who said that every engineer should be required to spend a certain number of years working as a mechanic.  But when the mechanic has been replaced by artificial intelligence that will become a big challenge.  These days my truck records events as I drive it.  The mechanic plugs in a cable to download the information.  But I can automate that process too if I sync the truck to their computer system.  Then the truck will tell the mechanic when it needs a repair or service.  At what point will my truck just drive itself to the repair shop, have the work done, and report back to my driveway when the work is done?  Perhaps then we will have even more time for what we really want to do.

  • I don't think there is as much to worry from intrusion of Robots (Total Station)  as we will see with the introduction of RTK GPS technology....the field surveyor is fast being replaced by field technicians collecting position data and the CAD operator using advanced survey programs (Carlson products) is becoming the designer and expert.

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