A view on total stations

What is a total station?
A total station is an optical instrument, often used in construction, land surveying and civil engineering. It is useful when you want to measure horizontal angles, vertical angles and distance. A total station does this by analyzing the slope between the total station itself and a specific point.

Total stations can have different components, these components are:

  • Electronic transit theodolite
  • electronic distance meter
  • microprocessor
  • Electronic data collector and storage system

Total stations are often used with a number of additional attributes:

  • Tripods
  • Tribarchs
  • Reflective poles
  • Prisms

This gives you a number of unique advantages

  • Accuracy: A total station is accurate to a fraction of an arc second, also measuring distances to hundredths of 0.3048 m to over 304.8000 m.
  • Ease of use: Total stations are easy and intuitive to use. They can take distance and horizontal measurements at the same time. They also make it easy to calculate coordinates.
  • Speed: Total stations collect information very quickly. This allows users to get in and out of the field quickly.
  • Convenience: Total stations provide fast and easy set-up. With a total station, a user can conduct multiple surveys in one location.
  • Effortless CAD interface: It is easy to download survey data into a computer-aided CAD program, eliminating time-consuming data manipulation.

Difference between a total station and a theodolite
A theodolite is used to measure angles. A total station, on the other hand, is used to measure both angles and distance.
It is an instrument often used by surveyors, engineers and archaeologists. Plumbers are also seen using it nowadays when they have to lay a pipe.
A normal total station measures both distances and angles.

So if you only need to calculate the angle, for example, you should buy a theodolite. In case you need to measure both distance and angle, you need a total station.
You also have a reflection-free total station. These do not need a prism to measure. However, you do sacrifice a certain range for this. If you want to get the full range out of a total station, you need a prism.

Difference between a manual total station and a robotic total station
One of the differences is the number of people you will need for the job. With a manual total station, you will need someone at the total station itself, but also someone at the prism pole (reflector pole).
With a robot total station, the total station will automatically follow the prism so you only need one person to hold the pole. This means that you essentially only need one person to handle the machine.
Robot total stations, however, do cost a little more than a manual one. On the other hand, you save on employee costs.

How to find the right total station?
First, take a good look at the kind of specifications you are going to need for your research. Then research which brand meets these specifications, and whether the brand is known for its reliability and quality. And, of course, consult sources that can help you make the right choices.

What you use a total station for

  • Topographical measurements.
  • Land and property surveys.
  • Road and corridor surveys.
  • Design surveys.
  • Infrastructure surveys.
  • Volumetric surveys to measure stock volumes.
  • Power line surveys.
  • Utility design surveys.
  • Accident site investigations.
  • Crime scene investigations.
  • Mine and quarry investigations.
  • Tank calibration or inspection.