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Topic: Total Stations

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History of the Total Station

What is a Total StationAlmost every land surveyor in the modern world will at some point use a Total Station instrument in their daily surveying work.  However, if you ask a land surveyor about the history of the Total Station, very few can tell you.   In fact, you may be surprised to know how recent the advent of Total Station happened.

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Early History of Total Stations


The First Total Station Zeiss Elta 46The total station was introduced in 1968 by Zeiss Instruments and was named the Elta 46 and for the first time distance and angle measurements could be recorded by one instrument. The total station is a transit integrated with an EDM, electronic distance meter, which can read slope distances from the instrument to a particular point of land. This combination gives the surveyor the capability of retrieving data related to the coordinates of the reflector in the device.

A total station (TS) is also known as a total station theodolite (TST)which is an electronic/optical instrument used for surveying and building construction. It is an electronic transit theodolite integrated with electronic distance measurement (EDM) to measure both vertical and horizontal angles and the slope distance from the instrument to a particular point, and an on-board computer to collect data and perform triangulation calculations. Over time, the Total Station has evolved into a more robotic instrument used by land surveyors and with this evolution has come greater productivity. Robotic or motorized total stations allow the operator to control the instrument from a distance via remote control. This eliminates the need for an assistant staff member as the operator holds the retroreflector and controls the total station from the observed point. These motorized total stations can also be used in automated setups knows as Automated Motorized Total Station (AMTS).

Functions of Total Station

Practically every major land surveying equipment manufacturer carries a branded Total Station.  Over the years, systems for Angle Measurement and Data Collection have evolved in sophistication.   Most total station instruments measure angles by means of electro-optical scanning of extremely precise digital bar-codes etched on rotating glass cylinders or discs within the instrument. The best quality total stations are capable of measuring angles to 0.5 arc-second. Inexpensive "construction grade" total stations can generally measure angles to 5 or 10 arc-seconds.

Basic Total Station Operations

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Total Station Videos

Further Reading on Total Station

Total Station, Totally Cool | Time Team America | PBS

Courtesy of Provo Police Department If you've ever passed a construction site, been stuck in a "workers ahead" traffic jam, or picnicked in a public park, you've probably seen a Total Station. They're usually accompanied by one or two people wearing brightly colored vests and taking scrupulous notes.