Equipping Students Worldwide

By Daniel Brown
Providing discounted surveying equipment and training to educational institutions worldwide helps keeps students on the cutting edge.

It comes as no surprise that state-supported colleges and universities are strapped for cash these days. As tax revenues have dropped, states across the country have had to lower subsidies to their schools. In the West and Pacific Northwest, several states have reduced their subsidies to colleges and universities by 25 to 30 percent, says Jack Walker, chair of the Geomatics Department at Oregon Institute of Technology. "Across the nation, higher education is being severely impacted by the recession," says Walker.  

As a result, surveying schools find it nearly impossible to pay full price for today's high-end surveying equipment. Even in good economic times, it's difficult, if not impossible, for them to pay full price. Take a class of 25 surveying students, for example. If the instructor wants them to work in teams of three, that's about eight teams, and if each team needs a $50,000 GPS system, the total comes to $400,000. Schools simply don't have that kind of money.

"Acquisition costs can be extremely high," says Walker. "Plus, there are multiple types of equipment, and every three to five years the equipment becomes obsolete as new technology emerges. You need to replace the equipment."
Back in 2005, upper management at Topcon Positioning Systems spotted this need for surveying equipment, especially the GPS variety, and launched the Topcon Educational Partnership Program (EPP). The program supplies colleges, universities, technical schools, and labor union training programs with state-of-the art surveying equipment at educational discount prices. Dealers sell the equipment, then provide training at a nominal rate.      

Through this program more than 500 educational institutions in North and South America and Europe have been supplied with surveying and GPS equipment. In the United States, 153 colleges and universities had bought equipment as of January 2009. "We use the equipment in close to 20 courses," Walker reveals.

The University of Maine was one of the first schools to benefit from the program. "We got our first GPS system in about 2005," says Raymond Hintz, professor of surveying engineering technology. "We got two complete sets of HiperLite + GPS systems-two bases and two rovers. We used them in Practical GPS, Advanced Practical GPS, Advanced Surveying, Surveying Capstone, Adjustment Computations, and Practical Field Operations. University of Maine offers a four-year degree program in surveying. Hintz says that eight months ago, the university bought three base stations and three rovers in the GR-3 GPS line of equipment.

Bureau of Land Management Plays a Role

In the past, the University of Maine has received funds from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to enhance the ability of the BLM to hire four-year degreed students from the university, Hintz notes. "BLM gave us money to create an educational system to prepare surveyors for all problems they will face in their career. BLM does cadastral surveying, which means they do retracement surveys of the boundaries of federal lands. The money we have received from BLM was used in a variety of ways, including the purchase of survey equipment."
Dominick Auletto, former vice president of business development at Topcon, says he launched the Educational Partnership Program by working closely with the University of Maine. He had worked with Dr. Hintz for some years and collaborated with him to shape the EPP. In working with the University of Maine, Auletto says he learned that the surveying classes needed multiple software packages "so a class of 15 students did not have to all huddle around one computer."

"We sold them the GPS hardware and gave them three complete software packages," Auletto recalls. "I would say in most cases that sufficed because most of the classes had about 20 or 25 students, so having seven or eight students per monitor was acceptable to the schools. They had the option to buy more software packages, but they rarely have done that."
Auletto says Topcon started the program by focusing on approximately 25 schools that had four-year degree programs in surveying. A top priority was given to large schools such as the University of Maine, Oregon Institute of Technology, New Mexico State, Penn State, Ohio State, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Florida. After that, Auletto shifted the focus to engineering universities that offer surveying courses, then to two-year associate degree programs in surveying.

"The next phase of the program was geared toward the training schools at the labor unions," Auletto says. "We started with the Operating Engineers and from there branched into the Laborers Union."

The package of equipment originally formulated for the Operating Engineers was Topcon's GR-3 Pocket 3D GPS system. The package included one set of GR-3 receivers, an FC-200 data collector, and two sets each of software: the G3 GLONASS L1 L2 Tracking; the G3 GPS L5 Tracking; and the G3 Galileo Tracking. All base accessories and rover accessories were included as well.

"The package for the unions has special software dedicated to the construction market," says Auletto. "Topcon and the dealers would offer a special program to the operating engineers for machine control equipment," says Auletto. "The dealers would do the installation on their dozers, motor graders, and excavators. Then Topcon would come in and offer the GPS package to work in conjunction with the heavy equipment."

Word of Mouth

Auletto says word of the program spread quickly among surveying professors at universities and colleges. "They share that information, and that's how word got out," Auletto explains.

In the Southwest, Tony Trujillo is the president and general manager of Holman's, a Topcon dealer in Albuquerque, NM. "The real purpose of this program is to allow each and every student to get hands-on experience with the latest surveying technology," says Trujillo. Holman's has provided equipment to three colleges in New Mexico, one in Colorado, and one or two in Arizona.

For Central New Mexico Community College, Trujillo says Holman's has provided equipment on four levels. The first level includes theodolites, levels, and total stations; the second level is GPS equipment. The third level is GIS handheld units, and the ultimate is to use a GPS network with Topcon's Net-3 equipment. The city of Albuquerque has several GPS networks, and a surveyor can use the city's base stations to reference their own control points, Trujillo says.

At Purdue University, associate professor of civil engineering Steven Johnson says the department keeps a minimum of seven total stations as teaching tools. In 1992, Purdue bought four total stations and 10 levels, and Topcon agreed to contribute three total stations each year on loan. Through Positioning Systems, a dealer in Indianapolis, Topcon rotates those three stations out and provides three new ones each year. Plus, over the years, Purdue has bought two more total stations. Johnson says Purdue also has bought a GPS system from Positioning Solutions through the EPP program.

Johnson says he stays away from using robotic total stations to begin an engineering education. "I want them to understand the numbers," he says. "If everything is automatic they don't know what they're getting. I don't want to automate it. The students can always graduate up to robotic total stations in our upper division classes."
"We have integrated GPS systems across the curriculum," says Steven Frank, an associate professor at New Mexico State University. "We have a GPS course, but we use the GPS equipment in other courses as well. Every class that has field exercises will have at least one session using GPS." New Mexico State's basic surveying course is Survey 222-Plane Surveying. "We have the students run a traditional traverse using conventional surveying equipment and then run it using GPS equipment, so they can compare the two."
Other classes include Public Land Surveying Systems; Construction Surveying; Satellite Geodesy (the theory of how GPS works); and SUR 450, a senior-level project. "The seniors have to choose a real-world project to work on," says Frank. "Last semester we had 14 students in that course, and they all used GPS as a part of their project."

In western Pennsylvania, Dave Reitmeyer, owner and president of Productivity Products and Services, estimates his dealership has sold to 18 to 24 colleges and universities. Those include Penn State, Penn College, University of Pittsburgh, Allegheny Community College, Bluefield State College, West Virginia University, West Virginia Technical College, and Fairmont State.

Productivity Products has also sold many educational systems to labor unions: Carpenters Training Center in Neville Island, PA; Operating Engineers Local 66 training center in New Alexandria, PA; Laborers Training Center in Saxonburg, PA; and Operating Engineers Training Center, Local 132, in Ravens-wood, WV.

Going Global

The European Union has three or four times as many universities offering a surveying education as the United States, according to Auletto. Topcon has sold equipment into 315 European schools as of January 2009. "We've sold to 56 universities just in Italy, Turkey has 40, and Spain has 36." By comparison, in the United States, 153 colleges and universities had bought Topcon equipment as of January 2009; in Canada, 14 schools were in the program; in South America, the figure was 26.

In Wales, for example, Cardiff University has purchased the Topcon HiPer Pro and photogrammetry software. Alessia Taboga, a doctorate-level student at Cardiff University, is using the equipment to map landslides and locate survey lines. She also uses the instrument to monitor movement markers.

Taboga began landslide survey efforts by setting up survey pegs for geophysical grids. "We soon found that process to be very time consuming because the pegs were being removed by sheep and local children," she says. The new equipment "revolutionized our work, because we could set up a base station outside the landslide area and survey locations to a high degree of accuracy using the Rover."

She has also experimented using the GPS receiver to monitor landslide movement by installing rock anchor markers. This has proved very successful, as it is possible to monitor ground movements of approximately 0.8 meters a year to sub-centimeter precision. "In fact, the data we have collected on landslide movement using the equipment have proven more reliable than the conventional EDM-based surveying carried out by professional surveyors employed by the local council," says Dr. Peter Brabham, Taboga's project supervisor in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University.

What's more, the receiver was used to locate a number of random target markers used with balloon-based photography. "Using the photogrammetric software, we were able to construct a detailed topographic model of the landslide," Taboga explains.

At UPC-Technical University in Catalonia, Spain, the Educational Partnership has helped educate students seeking degrees in civil engineering and surveying engineering, say professors Jose Gili and M. Amparo Nunez. "With the new GPS receivers, it is possible for our students to use the receivers in both static and real-time kinetic mode as well," Gili notes.

"From time to time, we use the GPS receivers as research tools in a project carried out by our university," says Nunez. "For instance, we are helping local authorities in the study of subsidence due to heavy salt mining (both underground and open-pit) in the Potash Basin of 70 kilometers northwest of Barcelona City."
Daniel Brown is a freelance writer and a principal with TechniComm in Des Plaines, Illinois.

» Back to our September 2009 Issue

Website design and hosting provided by 270net Technologies in Frederick, Maryland.