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Amanda Haruch
Courtney Sell
4 October 2015
Project 2- Technical Definition and Description

This memo states the audience, purpose, and placement for the technical definition
and description of my chosen term for Project 2. The term I chose is total station.
The technical definition and description are found in the pages following this memo.
The audience of the technical definition and description are University of Idaho
students in an introductory topographical surveying class. It is specifically geared
toward those in the Civil Engineering Department who will use it to create
topographic maps for planning and designing roadways, buildings, water storage, or
other civil engineering projects. It is assumed that they have a basic understanding
of the difference between slope and lateral distances in calculations. The audience
also has basic knowledge of AutoCAD or Civil3D programs and would know how to
import the data collected from the surveys and how to proceed with the data points.
Some students in the Civil Engineering Department will choose a career path that
requires them to use total stations to survey a site and produce data that will assist
other engineers in design processes. Having a basic understanding of the
equipment and procedures that can apply to most situations is vital so that the
surveyor can go to a site and begin surveying without having to refer to an
instruction manual or other senior surveyors.
The targeted location of the technical definition and description would be found in
course material for a surveying class. It could also be published online for students
at other universities or colleges who are taking introductory surveying classes.

Technical Definition: What is a Total Station?

A total station is a combination of an electric theodolite and an electronic distance
meter (EDM) used in topographic surveys. They are used to measure slope
distances from the instrument to a particular point, which is helpful in creating
maps or construction layouts.
The total station is a complex machine with many electronic compartments on the
inside. The physical pieces that are used in taking the survey data, however, are
much less complex. The most useful pieces on the total station are the objective
lens, optical sight, horizontal and vertical angle adjustment and lock knobs, plate
and tribrach level bubbles, foot screws, digital screen, and keyboard. Two other vital
pieces of equipment that are needed for surveying using the total station are the
reflector prism and tripod.
1. Objective Lens. The objective lens is like a telescope to spot the reflector
prism. This lens has crosshairs through the center of it to align with those
crosshairs in the prism to make accurate and consistent readings.
2. Optical Sight. Most total stations have two optical sights; one on the top
and bottom of the objective lens. They are small sights with no zoom, so it is
like looking through a tiny window (or a peephole with no curvature). Locating
the reflective prism by using the optical sight roughly aligns the objective
lens with the target so it doesnt have
to be tracked through the objective
lens, which can be quite difficult over
long distances.
3. Horizontal and Vertical Angle
Adjustment and Lock Knobs. The
angle adjustment knobs fine tune the
alignment of the objective lens so the
crosshairs on it and the reflective
prism align as perfectly as possible.
The smaller lock knobs keep it in to
place to avoid any small movements
from the wind or touching the total
4. Level bubble. Two level bubbles are
on every total station. One is located
on the plate to measure horizontal
levelness. The other is on the base of
the total station to find the general
levelness of the total station once it is attached to a tripod.
5. Foot Screws. Food screws are used to make fine adjustments in leveling the
instrument. Two knobs can be twisted at the same time until the bubble on
the total station base is in the center of the level.
6. Digital Screen. The digital screen displays the height and location of the
total station as well as the elevation and location of the target.
7. Keyboard. The keyboard is used to navigate the digital screen. Some of the
most important buttons on it are the data storage to be able to import into a

computer system later and the angle buttons to measure the horizontal,
vertical, or slope distance from the total station to the target.
8. Tripod. The tripod is a base for the total station that keeps it level and allows
for rotations.
9. Reflector Prism. The prism is a mirror target placed at a given point to be
surveyed. It has crosshairs that identify its center.

8. Tripo

9. Reflective

Technical Description: How do Total Stations Work?

Total stations use electronic distance meters to determine distances and angles to
certain points. Below describes how the total station calculates these

The total station is placed on a tripod in a location where there are very few visual
obstructions in the way of points that the surveyor wants data on. After it is set up
and leveled, it can accurately find the vertical distance, horizontal distance, slope
distance, and angle from North (zenith angle). It does all of this by shooting a small
laser at a reflective prism that bounces back to the total station.

The laser is shot from the objective lens of the total station toward a reflective prism
that is on a specific point. The laser reflects off of the prism face back to the
objective lens of the total station. Internally, the total station can calculate the time
it took the laser to return and what angle it came back at. When those are
combined, it produces various types of distance measurements on the digital
display screen. These measurements include horizontal distance, vertical distance,
slope distance, and angle of change from the previous point, if there was one. These
values are stored in the total stations internal memory so that it can later be
transferred to a computer program.
Because the total station relies on the laser being reflected from the prism, this
machine can only be used in fair weather conditions. Taking accurate shots is very
difficult in the rain or snow because water droplets can land on the objective lens or
prism mirror and obscure the angle returned to the total station. It can also slow the

time it takes the laser to return. In addition to affecting the laser, it also becomes
difficult to see through the objective lens itself to line up the cross hairs with the
It is also suggested that the points being shot are no further than 1,500 meters, or
4,900 feet. Any distance further than that leads to a significant rise in errors. It is
difficult to accurately and precisely line up the cross hairs at this distance. At close
range, a small offset only affects the data by a few centimeters, but as the distance
increases, these offsets could lead to several inches or even feet of skewed