How do we survey the changing face of Britain?

One of our surveyors at head office

Keeping the master map of Great Britain up-to-date is no easy task and sees thousands of changes a day made to our database. We capture these changes on the ground through our team of 240 surveyors equipped with the latest positioning technology and via Remote Sensing, with both our own Flying Unit and strategic suppliers capturing aerial imagery which is then processed back at head office.

The latest technology makes the task of capturing change on the ground faster than ever before. Our surveyors are usually home-workers and keep the GI data up to date within a set area. They work on a Panasonic Toughbook – a ruggedised convertible notebook computer which serves as both their laptop and data collection tool. It’s both showerproof and dustproof which is essential for a job largely carried out in the great outdoors. It connects wirelessly to their GNSS equipment, electronic total station and hand-held laser rangefinder. It’s also the means for them to connect to head office, arrange and order data for jobs and send data back again.

It’s not as simple as just carrying the Toughbook around though – being out and about and using the Toughbook is a drain on the battery. So our surveyors also carry a spare battery and have charging kit in their cars.

Testing out new equipment

A car is key for the surveyors to move their equipment around – although in London it can be easier to pack light and take the tube at times. There are a number of items the surveyors carry around on a daily basis, aside from their Toughbook. All surveyors have the latest RTK GNSS receivers, Leica GS15s, and this equipment is essential for pinpointing their location. These GNSS receivers receive signals from GPS, Glonass and other constellations as they become available. This makes it easier (and quicker) for the surveyors to get a fix on their location than with previous receivers – and the information is relayed via wireless technology to their Toughbooks. Using GNSS improves the accuracy of data collection and means that our surveyors can use the receivers in places where they were previously unable to get a location fix. Of course – there are still wooded areas, spots under flyovers and other places where there is no means of getting the GNSS receiver to receive signals – in these circumstances reflectorless total stations are used, again connected to the Toughbook wirelessly.

Our surveyors also carry a hand-held distance measuring device, which connects to the Toughbook via Bluetooth®. And in addition to all this hi-tech equipment, they still carry a trusty tape measure and optical square too.

Past surveying technology

Technology developments in the last 20 years have changed the way our surveyors work. Data capture on the ground is much faster, whereas the data management, feature attribution and the validation processes now represent a greater proportion of their daily workload. This has led to many surveyors segmenting their days – working through their jobs and capturing all of the data first and then heading back to their home office to complete the attribution and validation process to finish the job. And of course, it’s better to do this at your desk with the Toughbook docked and a larger screen to work from – plus the benefit on wet, wintry days of being able to complete the work indoors of course.

Although data capture is faster, the quality of our data is maintained or improved. Our surveyors are, of course, still fully trained and able to carry out jobs without the modern equipment, but the Toughbook with its connection to our Geospatial Data Management System, the GNSS receivers and wireless technology are now a part of the daily job in maintaining the 460 million features in the master map of Great Britain.

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