Hands On: FieldGenius XG from MicroSurvey
by Joe Bell, LS

The term “data collector” has had many meanings since the 1970s. There was the black box which allowed you to collect data but not use or examine the data. There was the survey pack which allowed you to bring COGO into the field. There were combinations of collector and survey packs. Now there are complete survey programs and GIS programs that you can take into the field which allow you to do virtually anything in the field that you previously could only do in the office. FieldGenius XG is such a comprehensive program.

It has been interesting to follow the development of the data collector. One problem has always been the identification of collected shots or points. Entering numeric codes was the immediate solution which I never liked. This was followed by being able to enter descriptions. Desktop programs were usually not able to process the descriptions because users would give different names to the same point or the same name to different points. Then a descriptor list was incorporated into the software. Being able to pick the descriptor off a list greatly reduced the problems. Now, we see in FieldGenius XG what appears to be the ultimate solution. Not only does it provide a list of descriptors, FieldGenius XG provides a set of attributes and a large list of symbols that you can attach to a point descriptor. What comes out of FieldGenius XG is a ready-to-plot map.

High Marks in All Areas 
Another problem for the staking program is the creation of alignments and cross sections for staking and slope staking. Alignments could be entered into the HP 41. Eventually, alignments and cross sections could be manually entered into the data collector. I can remember the misery of entering an eight-mile alignment into the HP 48. I believe that FieldGenius XG has come up with the correct solution. Alignments and cross sections are created in the desktop software and then loaded into the data collector as a LandXML file.

Slope staking has become very interesting. Data collectors in general owe something to the programs written for the RTK GPS. FieldGenius XG uses the cross hairs and circle to show the position to be staked and then a symbol for the current position of the rod plus it lists the right of left distance and the to or from distance. This works well whether you are giving directions to a rod person, using a robotic total station or RTK. Now, if we could only shoot a stake out of the bottom of the rod!

Once, the testing of points had to wait until you brought the file into the office where you could create a DTM and develop contours. You looked for those bullseyes and identified the points with bad elevations. Even then you could not identify where break lines were needed unless you did both your own field work and office work. Now, FieldGenius XG lets you create a DTM and contour it in the data collector. You can remove the points with bad elevations from the DTM without removing them from the data collector file and it is immediately obvious where break lines are needed.

When data collectors ran on the HP41CX, I was willing to forgive a lot of shortcomings in the user interface. Now that we have handhelds that have a half-gigabyte of memory, I am no longer willing to accept these shortcomings.

By what criteria shall we judge a field program? If power were the only criteria, it would be relatively easy to judge. What good is power if it takes your whole working life to learn how to use it? I have some thoughts on how to judge a field program. The program must be easy to learn and easy to run. The program must bulletproof, that is, it must be very hard to make a mistake and it must be easy to back up if you have accidentally made a wrong turn. FieldGenius XG stores data on a storage card instead of main memory so that if the collector locks up, no data is lost. The program must never terminate unexpectedly. The program must be able to trap all errors so that it never hangs (stops working so that it requires a soft boot to continue). FieldGenius XG got high marks in this regard.

If power were the only criteria, FieldGenius XG would win hands down. FieldGenius XG runs in Windows CE which means that it will run on any machine that uses Windows CE as an operating system-from the inexpensive iPAQ to the more expensive Husky, Ranger, and Panasonic Toughbook. If you are already using one of these machines, you can make it a lot smarter by loading FieldGenius XG.

How easy is FieldGenius XG to install? Pick a picture of your machine from the desktop screen and FieldGenius XG is automatically installed on your data collector. One word of caution: FieldGenius XG is very large but it ran satisfactorily on my iPAQ 3650 with only 32 MB of memory.

FieldGenius XG interfaces with all popular electronic survey instruments, total stations, robotic total stations, and RTK GPS and WAAS-enabled receivers.

ActiveSync Project Transfer
Not only can you export your FieldGenius XG file to MicroSurvey, you can export the file as a *.FBK (a field book file which can be read directly into Civil Series 2004 or LDD). Since all the attributes are already present, you come out with not only a checked survey but a nearly complete final plat. You can export an ASCII points file, a DXF file, or a shapefile (a standard GIS file from ESRI) as well. You can also import a DXF file, an ASCII elevation file, an ASCII XYZ file, a Surface (QSB), and a LandXML file.

Surface Modeling 
Surface modeling is as sophisticated as most desktop programs. It allows the user to create a TIN or a grid by selecting the settings under surfaces. You can contour as well. You can take points out of the DTM by setting an attribute and you can select break lines. You can list the features you have in your map. There are two check boxes that control line work and DTM. If you check the line box, all points with the same feature are connected. If you leave the exclude from DTM unchecked, the line is a break line.

GPS Surveying 
FieldGenius XG allows you to initialize the base station or reference station receiver, initialize the rover receiver, and even set up the radios. You can set up the antenna height and even identify each antenna. You can set FieldGenius XG to display in State Plane Coordinates or UTM coordinates and set the vertical datum. Because handheld devices are small and still limited in memory, FieldGenius XG comes with a Datum Grid Editor so that you can load only that part of the GEOID99 file that is in your selected immediate area.

Figure 1 shows a page from the documentation showing the GPS screen. Note the little GPS Tool Bar in the center of the screen. From left to right, you see RTK Fixed which tells you that you have lock and are getting a fixed solution as opposed to a float solution. The next shows you how many SVs are visible above the mask. If you press this button, you get a sky plot so that you can see where the SVs are. The next shows you the current PDOP (measure of reliability). You can cycle through HDOP and VDOP by pressing this button. The Info button reveals the rover status, battery remaining, and a list of the SVs. The fifth button (with the globe icon) will show the latitude, longitude, and height at the cursor position (If HUD is enabled). Tap it again and it will show UTM or State Plane Coordinates. Tap it once again and it will show the horizontal and vertical root mean square error.

You can even fit your measurements into an existing set of terrestrial observations with local transformations (translation, rotation, and scale based on occupying three or more know points in the terrestrial system).

FieldGenius XG makes very efficient use of the small screen. All the information is one click away by use of the “i” button. Another nice feature is that when you are shooting a number of side shots of the same description you need only tap the screen anywhere for the next side shot.

I am using the desktop emulator for screen shots because, although I have the software to capture images right off the data collector, they are too small. Figure 2 shows the screen as it appears in full screen view. The table at the left actually is not visible on the data collector unless the little folder button on the lower tool bar is tapped. You are looking at a LandXML file created in LDD. In addition to all of the ground shots, it contains a design alignment and a lot of cross sections.

Figure 3
 is the same view where the toolbars are not hidden. The “X” button on the toolbar cancels the previous command. The button with the folder opens the window at left which lists all of the database information about the survey. The “i” button pops up information about whatever is tapped on the screen, such as point, alignment, cross section, etc. The next three buttons regulate zoom features. The “plus sign” button is for pan, “hud” is a display on/off switch for scale bar and information, and the globe icon is an on/off switch for map display (in case you cannot read the information, SS is the last side shot and S+ is the next side shot).

In the bar above, the TH button allows you to check or change the target height at any time. RT dtm creates a DTM from points with elevations that are not excluded. The pencil draws a line between existing points. New starts a new figure. The open box closes a figure making it an acceptable polygon for shapefiles. End ends a line or figure. The next three start a line, a curve, and a polyline. Above this is a place for selecting point descriptions and a place for identifying lines or figures.

At the very top is a menu bar which is actually on the bottom of the handheld screen. You can open an existing survey, start a new survey, delete a survey, export a file, or import a file (as mentioned above). Figure 4 shows the View pull down menu. You can also see the triangulated grid created by a single key tap. In the pull down menu you will see View 3D. Figure 5 shows the grid in 3D. Notice the alignment at elevation zero in blue. Notice that the stationing text is offset from the DTM.

The next are instrument selection, traverse (which is where you occupy), check back sight, two point resection, remote elevation transfer, and auto traverse. Next is side shot menu which includes all of the different offsets checks and notes. With some data collectors you can also add voice notes to a point.

You can find out more at www.microsurvey.com. The Panasonic Toughbook came with all the hardware necessary to mount it on a pole making it ready for Robotic Total Stations or RTK. I did not cover everything, but the fact that you can download a LandXML design file and stake from it with the drawing makes it a great choice for construction staking.

Joe Bell is the owner of SCJ GPS/GIS Consultants in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and the Software Reviewer for the magazine.