Surv-Fi, Part 3: Defending The Future

In the Year 2069 a Surveyor Defends a New TechNology before the State Board Of Registration

A 1.222Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

We were introduced to Veldarma "Vel" Kawashima in the first installment of this "surv-fi" tale (see "Boom N’ Puck," Oct. 2006). Vel is an independent surveying contractor in Seattle, Washington. In Part 2 (see "Boomer’s Hearing," Nov. 2008) Vel prepares to defend her use of a controversial new remotely operated flying scanner (a.k.a. "puck") before the State Board of Registration.

There had been so much interest in the case, that the venue had been changed to a hearing room at the state capitol. The notices and press releases included an invitation for attendees who wished to arrive early and use their own instruments to observe three test marks set up in the hearing room; marks that would be used in a live demo of Vel’s little "devil disk" (as some with tongue-in-cheek had dubbed the puck). Three leveling turtles had been set up on the carpet in corners of the room, and a standard boom calibration target lay on the floor in front of the dais.

A bit of a furor delayed the start of the proceedings when it was discovered that several of the guest observations did not jibe with the majority. Later some would wonder if someone was trying to throw off the "control" for the demo, while others felt that most likely there were some instruments that had not been calibrated for some time. Finally, board member Emily Locke, retired geodesist (and former governor) borrowed a total station and ran her own series.

The Board of Registration for Engineering and Surveying was typically made up of nine professionals: two or three surveyors and the rest engineers from a variety of disciplines. While there had always been many types of engineering licenses, it had only been a decade since surveying now encompassed five Geomatics Sciences licenses. Vel held four of these; construction, assessment, remote sensing, and cadastral. As tradition would have it, only those holding a cadastral license were referred to as Land Surveyors.

This was the first time that anyone could remember that any press had attended any such proceeding; most were from engineering and surveying publications, but there were a few from general science and technology channels as well as local media. Vel, who usually never fretted over her attire, made sure to wear something sensible and businesslike. She had also switched to the shorter wheelchair base for the occasion. Her entry down the aisle, followed puppy-like by three peds waddling and whirring behind her, had a somewhat comical air to it, and shortly the room was filled with polite laughter.

These peds were essentially self-propelled robotic SPLR (synchronized pulse ranging) tranceptors, but also included XGNSS receivers and monument location devices­a near-total station in their own right. You could drop one of these on a job site, and with minimal remote commands, it would find control, move over it with its heavy clawed feet, level up, resolve high precision geodesy via satellite-based positioning, and sync up with other peds, or total stations, or boom (or puck).

These three peds shuffled over to the preset marks, lifted up over them, wiggled into place and began a sort of synchronized calibration dance. The puck cradle was wheeled in and Vel tapped a handset which brought some of the wall screens to life.

Following introductions and reading of the very long complaint, Board Chair Lindy Ndegwa got straight to the point. "Mr. Lloyd," she said, addressing her questions directly to the leader (and most vocal member) of the group, "for the benefit of those not involved in surveying or technologies of this kind, please give a brief summary of the reasons why you think Miss Kawashima should not be licensed to practice Land Surveying in this state."

Len Lloyd was never short for words. He dove directly into a long-winded rant against "unproven" technologies, and how such measurements "would never stand up in court," and how such "shortcuts" would ruin the surveying industry and put many folks out of work. After a few short questions from the board and media, eyes turned toward Vel. Lindy nodded.

Vel said a lot that day; the audience and media picked up on a number of key points:

"This is not a court­and whether such measurements would stand up in court can only be determined by a judge when and if such a challenge ever occurred." Vel started off slowly, but those who knew her well had heard these words before. She went on to explain that tools used for positioning do not fall into classifications of "legally defendable" or "not legally defendable."

She held up a reeled tape. "This steel tape is the same type used on a survey at the water tank site in 1946. Was it legal to use it then? Yes, and legal to use it now." She flashed images of the survey done the day before, with her volunteers taping online with a transit and chaining pins. "Here is a scan of the field notes from 1946, and a scan of right-of-way plan from the same year, and my recorded survey performed with the puck." She went on to contrast a 1990’s survey done with a total station, and a 2018 survey done with a robotic station and network RTK.

Again, holding up the reeled tape, she went on to add, "It does not matter what tools we may choose to use for a survey, only that we use them properly and are willing to stand by our results." She then looked directly at her detractors and asked, "How many of you closed a traverse on these test points?" motioning to the peds. These peds have just done so with several thousand repetitions each in the past few minutes," she continued as a standard traverse worksheet came up on the display screens. "I stand by my measurements, and will only pass on as deliverable measurements those that meet the standards my client or I are willing to accept…"

"What about the law?" blurted out one of the detractors.

"Yes, my clients fully expect my work to meet any statutory or regulatory requirements," she replied calmly. "There are actually few requirements that specify positional tolerances."

She flashed up a page from the Washington Administrative Code; WAC 332-130: `MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR LAND BOUNDARY SURVEYS AND GEODETIC CONTROL SURVEYS AND GUIDELINES FOR THE PREPARATION OF LAND DESCRIPTIONS’ and highlighted the sections concerning city residential lots and subdivisions (1:5,000) and city central and business districts (1:10,000).

"This code was in effect when I performed the water tower survey. My results," she said, pointing to the display screen, "far exceeded these requirements, and even when we repeated the survey with this tape." Then she fed a few feet out from the reel and laid it on the ground next to the calibration target. The puck demo was about to begin.

While the puck made little noise as it rose off the cradle, a few folks gasped as a little bolt of static crackled its way down the grounding rod as it banked away into its calibration circuit. The wall displays cycled through a dizzying procession of tabular and formulaic data as the SPLDR exchanges between the puck and the peds continued. The puck even scanned the tape on the floor resulting in a full 3D image on the displays, with overlaid graticules showing the precision of the scan.

"As for proving the precisi
on of these processes, these are the same trigonometric and algebraic principles and algorithms used in centuries of surveying, only done so in greater volumes and speeds than before," she caught herself echoing her professors, "and in this case simultaneously by multiple instruments."

"Where is your paper trail?" demanded someone in the audience.

Vel held the puck in a hover mode to reply. "While every observation and computation is stored on multiple gel-blocks, the only one actually required is a recorded survey." Motioning to one of the screens she continued, "The bearings and distances are all that we actually file, and they stand as is until someone proves them otherwise."

"Do you mean `independent verification’?" asked Board Chair Ndegwa.

"Yes. That is what surveyors are required to do; independently verify as much evidence as is needed to be able to stand behind their findings," she answered.

"So your little device makes no mistakes?" said Len Lloyd, sarcastically. "We might as well all pack up and find another career­this thing makes us all obsolete!"

"Not at all!" Vel was showing the first signs of losing her cool. "Like any tool, it must be properly operated to avoid errors. And there are just as many surveyors licensed today as there were a century ago despite all of the technological changes and labor-saving devices that have come along." In a more level tone she quickly added, "We are professionals that are charged with evaluating evidence; measurements are only part of that evidence. There will always be a need for surveyors to act on behalf of clients to protect their bonafide rights, and assure the integrity of their designs…"

Len Lloyd interjected yet again, "This sounds like those resistance-tochange sermons your granddad used to give at conferences."

Vel replied slowly, "My grandfather grew up in a coal town where the coal ran out." Regaining her cool demeanor again, she continued, "Short of burying more coal for the townspeople to dig up again, he like many others moved on or moved out." Quizzical expressions from the audience and board prompted her to add, "Our industry has a bright and vital future ahead of it, but we have to embrace the inevitable changes."

"Thank you Miss Kawashima," offered the Board Chair in an effort to bring the debate to a halt. "If you could explain what your device is doing now?"

"Omigosh," Vel uttered to herself as she had forgotten the demo while engrossed in her arguments. "The peds have been taking turns moving off the points so that the puck can make some check-in observations on the same marks," she answered, regaining her train of thought. "They are programmed to do so automatically at the end of the survey, and as you can see," she said motioning to the displays, "the closures are within a few millimeters of the test observations."

"Thank you again," said the Board Chair. "I think we get the point, if you’ll excuse my pun." This did not generate as much laughter as the Chair had intended. "The board will adjourn for an hour while we consider what we have heard so far."

Vel headed for an outside patio for some air and went through the motions of making a call to avoid talking to anyone for at least a few moments. This did not deter a couple of young, sharply dressed dark suits from shoving a business card under her nose and interrupting with, "We have a project for you, we’ll be waiting over by the door when you are done with your call." Vel was nonplused momentarily, that is, until she read the logo on the business card: NASA. "NASA?" she repeated to herself a few times. She looked over at the pair, they were grinning widely and pointing up. Vel smiled back.

Later that evening, back in her living room with a celebratory brewski in hand, she decided it was time to call Duke with the news, and not just about the hearing, which had by all measures gone completely her way, and had even been topped off by a begrudging handshake from Len Lloyd himself. There was more news for Duke.

Vel had to handle this call to Duke especially carefully, both professionally and, well… for all the years she had known Duke though college and their long-distance working relationship, she had noticed (or perhaps was imagining) the first signs of any flirting only in the past few weeks. "Well here goes," she thought.

"Duke, I have a big project for us," she began in her usual straightforward manner.

"Will this involve me working long hours in the middle of night as usual?" he grumbled.

"No, it will be done on site… sort of." Then she eased up and brightly added, "I need you to come to Florida for a few weeks this summer."

"Florida?" he replied. "If I want a place that’s hot and humid and full of nasty insects I can just stay here."

"But I am more likely to wear my new bikini in Florida than in Seattle or India…" She had taken the plunge.

There was only silence from Duke’s end, followed by some audible keyboard clicks in the background.

"Duke, are you still there?" she asked.

"I am booking my flight," he finally replied. "Please call me tomorrow. I have much to do. I need to put my affairs in order, I mean, uh, I have a lot to do. Call me tomorrow. Thank you." (Click).

"I guess that went as well as could be expected," thought Vel. At least she hoped it did. The hearing went well, the projects were going well, and life seemed good. But perhaps Grandpa was right, she thought. She needed to add more changes to her life as well.

She fidgeted with the little aluminum box Grandpa had given her, and hoisted the beer in symbolic toast: "Cheers, Grandpa."

Next Installment: "To Boldly Survey"

Authors Note: All of the technologies mentioned in the preceding are either under development, serious proposal, or exist in perhaps less efficient forms. Are you ready?

Gavin Schrock is a surveyor in Washington State where he is the administrator of the regional cooperative real-time network, the Washington State Reference Station Network. He has been in surveying and mapping for more than 25 years and is a regular contributor to this publication.

Editor’s Note: Once again, thank you to Schrock for providing the black and white sketches for this article, and to graphic artist Joel Cheves for adding the color.

A 1.222Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE