Topcon roadshow exhibits latest in GPS

If you are thinking about investing in a GPS system for your survey crew or dirt-pushing machines, but are worried you can’t justify spending $50,000 to $200,000 on that kind of equipment, maybe you should reconsider.

Today’s GPS systems can make your machines and stake-out crews 50 percent to 100 percent more effective, says John Dudley, president of Earl Dudley Associates, a Topcon and Leica Geosystems dealer with five branches in the Southeast. On some jobs it’s even possible to eliminate more than 99 percent of the stakes a traditional survey crew would use.

“In the long run, who’s going to get the work?” asks Murray Lodge, national sales manager for Topcon Positioning Systems. “Pretty soon you’re going to have to go in this direction or you’re not going to be able to compete.”

GPS crash course
Topcon introduced the HiPer Lite, a cable-free GPS system, this summer and has been demonstrating it during the Topcon Technology Roadshow – a crash course in global satellite systems for contractors in cities across the country. HiPer Lite is a real-time kinematic system that doesn’t need external radios or an external power supply. This allows the equipment – base station, rover and controller – to fit in one case that can be carried by one person whereas conventional GPS systems require three cases. A contractor edition of the HiPer Lite typically costs $27,500.

“The compactness of it would be handy,” says Robert Tate, survey manager for Eutaw Construction, a heavy/highway contracting company in Aberdeen, Mississippi. “The rover is smaller than the one we have. And the controller is easy to use.”

Eutaw Construction bought its first GPS system two years ago and is in the market to purchase a second. The company has been buying other equipment, such as robotic total stations, lasers and machine control systems, from Topcon for almost 20 years.

Eutaw is considering both the HiPer Lite, which provides GPS surveying up to 1.5 miles away from the base station, and the HiPer+, which has cables but offers a 15-mile range. For the large road building jobs Eutaw undertakes, a survey crew could put the larger HiPer+ base station in one place and work the whole job, Tate says. On the other hand, the HiPer Lite would have to be moved a few times, but with its light weight and lack of cables, set up doesn’t take long.

Topcon calls its satellite technology GPS+ because most of its products can take advantage of more than one satellite system. GPS refers only to the U.S. constellation, which is composed of 24 satellites. The Russian Glonass system has 10 satellites now and will be launching more in the near future. The European Union is also planning to start its own constellation, which will be called Galileo. Forty-eight satellites will be available for tracking by 2005, Lodge says.

If you only use GPS satellites, there are certain times during the day when poor satellite coverage will prevent accurate readings. But using GPS and Glonass together can avert this downtime, Lodge says. The HiPer+ can use both GPS and Glonass, and Topcon is adding Glonass capability to the HiPer Lite this winter.

Build it as you grow
Tate says he likes Topcon because all of its products are compatible with each other. For instance, the company’s machine automation product uses the same in-cab control box for sonic, laser, slope, GPS and LPS systems. Lodge says Topcon constructs its products this way so you can start with a basic system and build it as your business grows. You can also update the products you already have as technology improves, so your old equipment doesn’t become obsolete.

Tate says he would eventually like to have one GPS system for each of Eutaw Construction’s six survey crews. “I’d like to go all GPS,” he says. “Anything that will make life easier, to me that’s the way to go.”

To learn more about Topcon products or the Technology Roadshow, click the link to the right.