Transforming Tools of Today

Posted on June 25, 2020

June, 2020

I love tools.  I always have.  I am lucky to have been married for 38 years, and it has all been great, except for one thing.  The Bridal Shower.  The blushing bride gets all sorts of cool kitchen tools, house cleaning tools and bathroom tools.  But what does that groom get? I got a sore back from carrying all of “our” tools to the car.  I think I may have had a red plastic Fisher Price toolbox with enough tools to change a light bulb. Thirty-eight years later, I now have multiple tool chests, a work bench with tools stuck in every slot, hole and hook, and a monstrous, multi-drawer, modular cabinet just filled with tools. With this selection of tools, I have whatever I need to handle any project that comes my way.

Survey tools of the past

That is a really cool thing about surveying.  The tools we have to work with today are plentiful and powerful.  Some are awesome technological marvels, others are simplistic in design, but wonderfully functional and efficient.  It has not always been this way, though we did not know it.  A trip to the instrument store in my early years never included aisles, racks and boxes of surveying tools.  But the few tools they had were great.  Maybe a theodolite or a machete.  Or even a shovel that had the right kind of shank that you knew would stand up to chopping through roots or lifting manhole lids.  The tools we had then, were limited in comparison to today, but we loved the tools just as much.

When a client approached us with a project in my early days, 35 years ago, the planning was different than today.  We would visit the project site to “get a feel” for the challenge, then review our available tools and see if we had all the tools that we needed to do the project correctly.  Usually we did, because there just wasn’t that much of a selection.  But every now and then, something unique would arise and we would adapt our tool inventory to complete the project as efficiently as possible.

Our tools have evolved over the years.  Why drive to a job today when I have Google Earth?  Why go to all of the municipal and county agencies when I have the internet?  When I am out in the field, one of the most important tools in my truck is my USB charging port. 

An example of evolved survey tools

Once I have an understanding of the job requirements, then I have to determine which tools are going to be used to provide the accuracy and efficiency to do the job correctly.  I have robotic total stations and electronic digital levels for high accuracy work. GPS (Global Positioning Systems) gives me a lot of flexibility, under certain conditions, to get similar data more efficiently, but perhaps a little less accurate.  I can always use a drone to get accuracies similar to GPS, but at a much greater densification, with imagery and coordinates every three inches across the site.  If I can’t see it from the sky, I can use a terrestrial scanner to go into buildings or sewers and accurately locate millions of positions every second.  Sometime the tools are UTV’s, boats or bicycles. 

While the process is similar to 35 years ago, the considerations are vastly different.  It is a full-time challenge to make sure we are providing the client with the best solution based on the available tools. Even though it is a daunting challenge at times, it is a lot of fun.  What a great time to be a part of the surveying profession! The tools are cool, and they seem to change every day.  But there is much more to surveying than just the tools.  The basic function of the tools is data collection.  The assessment and utilization of that data is a much more complicated and involved process for a later article.  But the tools are awesome. 

I often imagine the young surveyors of today.  No longer do they start with the little Fisher Price toolbox of tools.  Instead, they are presented with all of the tools in the modular cabinet tool box.  What a great array of tools instantly available.  Some days when I grab one of my favorite tools, a DJI Inspire 2 drone and head out the door, I am accused of going out to play.  I remind the accuser that I am working and that the drone is just one of my tools.  When I get onsite and launch the drone, the tool is working, and I must admit, on some level, I am playing.  I love my tools.

My official signature block says, “Craig P. Amey, PS, Senior Project Surveyor”.  I looked up “Senior” in my Encyclopedia Britannica and the definition included words like “elderly”, “older” or the ever-comforting phrase, “in their final years”.  Normally, this wouldn’t bother me much, but with the renovations of our office, they replaced my chair with an easy-up recliner, my desk with a TV tray, and my computer with a Sudoku book.  Now they’ve asked me to contribute to something called a blog.  I am supposed to write about our surveying department and put it on that internet thing.  I guess I can write a thing or two, because as the insurance company says, “I’ve seen a thing or two”.  I guess I better get writing, right after my nap.