Q & A
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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 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.
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
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
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.