ALS News: Measurement Technology Progresses - Total Stations

Gord Olsson, ALS (Hon. Life)

This is the 36th in a series of articles about objects in the Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association historical survey artifact collection. 

 A few years after the introduction of electronic distance measuring instruments (EDMs) many companies made them so they could be mounted on theodolites.  It would only be a matter of time before EDMs would become fully integrated with the theodolite.
One of the first total stations was AGA Geodimeter’s Model 700 which was introduced in 1971. It was advertised in the March 1972 issue of the Canadian Surveyor at a price of $15,000. In the ad it was called “a complete surveying system.” The term “total station” was not in fashion at the time. The Model 700 displayed horizontal and vertical angles, slope measurement, and computed horizontal distance. Attached to the instrument was a control, display and battery unit. It had the ability to record all the data on punched tape which could be fed directly into a computer system. Later other companies such as Zeiss, Hewlett-Packard, Sokkia and Topcon also produced total stations.
Now, over forty years, later most of these companies have gone out of business or have merged with or have been bought out by bigger companies. The dominant companies now are Leica Geosystems, (Wild. Kern); Topcon (Sokkia) and Trimble (Spectra Geospatial, AGA Geodimeter, Zeiss, Nikon). Names shown in brackets are the companies that have merged with or have been bought out by these companies.

Hewlett Packard 3810A. In 1975 Hewlett Packard in an ad in the Canadian Surveyor headlined the HP 3810A as the “New Total Station.” Horizontal angles could be estimated to five seconds and it was capable of measuring slope distance and zenith angle simultaneously and then calculating the horizontal distance or vertical distance for immediate display. This feature facilitated laying out horizontal distances and elevations.
Donated by Grant Cross, ALS (Ret.), Stantec Geomatics
ALSA 2008.10.16

Topcon, Guppy, GTS-10D. This total station was introduced in 1980. It measured distances over 1000 m. and angles to 10 seconds.  It used infrared light beams to measure the distances.
Donated by Wayne Wesolowsky, ALS (Ret.), Hamilton & Olsen
ALSA 2015.04.01

Geodimeter 420. This Total Station was part of the Geodimeter 400 System. It was introduced in 1987. It was comprised of an electronic theodolite, an EDM, and menu driven computing facilities. It could set out by distance and height or by coordinates. For setting out, the horizontal distances were updated 2.5 times every second.  It was used by Reg Watson, ALS#255 for surveys in Alberta. He was president of the ALSA in 1974.
Reg Watson Estate
SHF 2015.01.10

Geodimeter, GDM 610. This total station was part of the Geodimeter 600 System. It was introduced in 1994. The system covered three classes of total stations: the Geodimeter 610, 620 and 640 with the 610 being the basic system. Tracker and radio modules enabled the instrument to track a pole target automatically with the data acquisition controlled from the prism end. The memory system could hold up to 10,000 points.
Donated by Grant Cross, ALS (Ret.), Stantec Geomatics
ALSA 2008.10.15

Topcon, GPT-6005C. This total station was introduced in 2001. Some of the features of the Topcon’s GPT Series are non-prism measurement up to 400m, laser pointer for measurement and layout and Bluetooth connectivity. The image shows (left to right: the battery which fits into a compartment in the total station, The total station, a plumb bob even though the total station has an optical plumb, and a battery charger with cables. It was on display at the Whyte Museum in Banff for ten years.
Donated by Grant Cross ALS (Ret.), Stantec Geomatics
ALSA 2008.10.14
The next article will be on Global Positioning Systems.
Sources of Information:
  1. J.R. Smith The History of Geodimeter 1947-1997:
  2. The Canadian Surveyor: March 1972, (Geodimeter Model 700), page iv; Annual Report 1975 (HP3810A) page iv, v; September 1980 (Topcon Guppy GTS10D) page vi; Summer 1987 (Geodimeter 420) page 281.
  3. Geomatica: Summer 1994 (Geodimeter System 600 page iii.).
  4. Topcon GPT Series Total Stations:
  5. Topcon Museum:
Notes and Acknowledgements:  
The purpose of these articles is to share the history of objects in the ALSA historical survey artifact collection and their relationship to Alberta land surveys and surveyors. The articles are possible because of the donations by ALSs and others. Also acknowledged are past and present members of the Collections Group of the Historical & Biographical Committee: Lou Breton ALS (Hon. Life), Don George ALS (Hon. Life), Les Frederick ALS (Ret.), Monroe Kinloch ALS (Hon. Life), Gord Olsson ALS (Hon. Life); who documented, photographed the objects and prepared exhibits for museums and other venues in the province. Last but not least, thanks to Les Frederick who reviewed this article.