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Total Station in Surveying: Types, Uses and Applications

Total Station in Surveying

Last Updated on February 23, 2022 by Admin

This article discussed the total station in surveying its uses, its types of total station survey instruments, and its applications in the construction industry for surveying.

When we start surveying, the first thing we learn about is map reading and trigonometry. But when we encounter a problem in computation or interpretation, this knowledge may not be sufficient to provide a solution.

This is where total station survey instruments come in, as they solve problems right away with unparalleled precision and accuracy.

What is a Total Station?

A total station is an electronic theodolite that measures angles and distances between points. It’s the most advanced surveying instrument today, capable of measuring the horizontal and vertical angle to ±3 seconds.

A total station has two associated devices used during surveying: a digital distance meter which measures distance, and an angle sensor or right-angle optical prism, which measures the horizontal or vertical angle.

Like the word “total” means, this instrument can do many measurements; a Total Station is a telescope mounted on wheels or a tripod.

It can measure distances and angles between lines, heights of points on an object, area, volume of an object from its sides, slope angle between two directions on the ground, etc.

Types of Surveying Instruments

A survey instrument means measuring properties such as landmass, angles, and elevations that are not measured by the naked eye.

It provides information in the form of two mathematical expressions for any location. Consequently, this information can be integrated with existing or future data to provide new insights into each location’s features.

Surveying instruments are classified as instruments for land surveying or engineering. Land surveying instruments are used to measure distances and elevations on the ground and may also measure horizontal angles.

Engineering instruments typically get straight vertical or horizontal lines from a starting point to wherever you are constructing or drawing the object being surveyed:

Other types of surveying instruments include the laser rangefinder, a device that distances the surface of reflective objects. Total stations are turning out to be a crucial component in these mechanisms because they provide accurate measurements with consistent margins of error.

The related surveying instruments include Total Stations, Surveyor’s Benchshocks, Precision “odometers” or Flowmeter Tanks, and Surveying Laser Rangefinders or Messmarkers. You can install these instruments virtually anywhere on your property, such as domestic size areas like a house.

How does Total Station Work?

Total stations are used in surveying and mapping. A total station is a series of coordinated gunsights, telescopes, convergence sights, inclinometers, periodic dials, and a compass that allows the rapid collection and transfer of bearing measurements by connecting to the data link port of a GPS receiver.

Trimble SX12 technical specifications

Surveying is a modern type of remote sensing, which uses technology to transmit data from space. It is used primarily for building surveys and map-making.

Total stations are devices that can be set up on the ground and measure distances, angles, areas, heights, slopes and locate objects using multiple sensors.

The accuracy and resolution of these measurements depend significantly on the quality of the equipment used in surveying. Today calculating points on an aerial LiDAR scan coincides with today’s most reliable point of view.

In 1881 Thomas Edison introduced the first total station still in use today at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. Due to its economic efficiency, a total station has become famous throughout commercial building surveying uses nowadays.

A total station combines an instrument and software that uses spatial understanding to determine position data. Sources can include multiple sensors such as a Global Positioning System receiver, triangulation, or limited range radio communications.

For surveying, total stations are used in action taking and photogrammetry to take precision measurements, such as angles and distances of objects. This allows their images to be captured digitally. Another use is measuring crop yield and determining the type of crop.

Total stations can measure long distances up to 8 miles depending on the equipment they have been equipped with.
A total station is a surveying instrument that uses the data generated by radar and digital receivers to provide both distance and height measurements over a land survey. They are used with GPS precision in a vertical position, horizontal distance, and angular geometry.

In a surveyor’s profession, the need for surveyors to obtain proper coordinates is an STI constantly needed. Assisted by laser-light scanning and known as total stations, this is not a job for amateurs or hobbyists.

The use and applications of total-station surveys are vast, with many fields choosing to use them for various operations depending on personal preference.

Working principle of the total station in surveying

The entire station allows surveyors to create a map of a spot in three instead of two dimensions, as was generally the case with surveying instruments.

The term 1–Point reflects this capability; each point that a full surveying method measures is considered one dimension and describes an independent position on the ground. A total station has high accuracy and range due to its lenses, adjustable vertical laser levels, and bubble axes.

A total station is a tool used for surveying. The equipment heavily relies on geo-radar and time signals to calculate the levels and distances of points it is set over.

The measurement of heights or portions of objects is done by the prism used to determine the angles partaking in triangulation and rapid positioning.

The application of the total station in surveying covers a vast range of activities related to engineering and construction.

The total station is used in various industries, such as civil engineering, architecture, construction site engineering, traffic engineering, and airport design. Additionally, it is also used in transportation management systems.

Types of total station

For total surveying stations, there are different types of full stations. The most popular form is a total handheld station, available with an internal or external antenna and for photogrammetric processing.

Another type is the mobile station attached to a motorized platform that gives it mobility. Lastly, the fixed station is mounted on a tripod and provides continuous service from a stationary point.

As per Trimble Geospatial, there are the following four types of Total Stations;

1. Scanning Total Stations

2. Robotic Total Stations

3. Autolock Total Stations

4. Total Mechanical Stations

Instrument manufacturers

  • Carl Zeiss (historical)
  • GeoMax, part of Hexagon AB
  • Hewlett Packard (historical)
  • Nikon, part of Trimble
  • Leica Geosystems, part of Hexagon AB
  • North Group LTD (historical)
  • Sokkia, part of Topcon
  • TI Asahi Co. Ltd, sold under the Pentax brand
  • Topcon
  • Trimble Navigation Ltd.
  • Wild Heerbrugg AG (historical), part of Leica Geosystems

Total station in Surveying

A total station in surveying is an inventory and control device used to take your measurements digitally. The data collected by a total station is displayed on a control unit, controlling its elements utilizing software and technology.

Total stations are only to be used by trained people who know to be safely used in construction sites or at the workplace where they understand what the use may bring.

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Uses and Applications

The most widely used survey instruments in surveying are total stations and paired wire leveled distance measuring equipment.

Surveying instruments provide an accurate understanding of any property, boundaries, and vegetation, making land surveying the backbone of real estate, engineering, and other disciplines. Due to their ease of use, these surveying systems are typically called ‘stations.’

A surveyor can use a total station to measure distance, level, angle, and elevation in a given site. The total station is an instrument used to determine horizontal and vertical datums in a given area. These instruments can be sized to the field of survey, with options ranging from hand-held devices for general purpose usage to large mobile total stations usually used for long-term surveying or construction.

A total station is a device used by surveying experts to map heights and distances. It consists of a telescope, Vernier scales, and a coordinate system that helps in calculating the relative vertical location. The most common types used are the company’s brand total stations, transit total stations, and handheld ones.

Customer Benefits of using a total station

Thanks to technology advancements, many customer benefits are now included in surveying using a total station. One advantage is creating contour maps by simple measurements and calculations.

Another benefit is it saves surveys time since they need not go through the tedious process of measuring distances and angles more than once. Surveys can also use processes like detailing that improve accuracy and eliminate errors from the survey process.

Customers benefit from the many features of total stations, such as data capturing and analysis. These features allow businesses to take advantage of flawless and accurate survey collecting, providing significant cost savings while increasing the likelihood of getting accurate information.

When a customer starts using a total station for the first time, such as when setting up aerial photography, he is usually confused about how to carry it.

To answer this question and make his work go more smoothly and efficiently, he should first figure out the weight of the total station according to hardware weight, net weight, and volume capacity of goods that it enters.


It is a powerful tool used by construction engineers to plan land and in construction-related tasks such as earthworks, grading, leveling, and shape planning. It has been around since 1967, when engineer Robert Livesay created it to design cut lines for constructing drill sites and roads.

This incredible device is taking surveying to the next level. It has changed the landscape of survey technology, and once again, these instruments are catching up with cutting-edge technology even before it is introduced on a larger scale.

Total Station FAQs

Q.1. What is a total station used for?

Ans: A total station is used for surveying and construction. They are also used in aviation, agriculture, geology, archaeology, forestry, and photography. Total stations have many other uses, such as engineering surveys and navigation.

Q.2.What is the principle of the total station?

Ans: The principle of the total station is that it has no moving parts. This is because it uses electronic distance measurement technology. The GPS and laser usually come with a dual-beam total station. The most common types are the single-beam (sometimes called a PEGASUS) and the dual-beam.

Q.3. What is the total station and EDM?

Ans: The total station is the most common surveying instrument and the primary tool for all surveying levels. It is used to find or measure angles, distances, heights, and other spatial information. The EDM (electronic distance measurement) can also be attached to a total station, or it can be a stand-alone device as well. The EDM uses GPS technology to determine distances from one point to another on earth with greater accuracy than any stand-alone surveying instrument today.

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