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Total Station in Surveying – Operation, Uses and Advantages

What is a Total Station?

Total station is a surveying equipment combination of Electromagnetic Distance Measuring Instrument and electronic theodolite. It is also integrated with microprocessor, electronic data collector and storage system. The instrument can be used to measure horizontal and vertical angles as well as sloping distance of object to the instrument.

Capability of a Total Station

Microprocessor unit in total station processes the data collected to compute:

  1. Average of multiple angles measured.
  2. Average of multiple distance measured.
  3. Horizontal distance.
  4. Distance between any two points.
  5. Elevation of objects and
  6. All the three coordinates of the observed points.

Data collected and processed in a Total Station can be downloaded to computers for further processing.

Total station is a compact instrument and weighs 50 to 55 N. A person can easily carry it to the field. Total stations with different accuracy, in angle measurement and different range of measurements are available in the market. Figure below shows one such instrument manufactured by SOKKIA Co. Ltd. Tokyo, Japan.

Parts of total station

Fig: Parts of total station

Important Operations of Total Station

Distance Measurement

Electronic distance measuring (EDM) instrument is a major part of total station. Its range varies from 2.8 km to 4.2 km. The accuracy of measurement varies from 5 mm to 10 mm per km measurement. They are used with automatic target recognizer. The distance measured is always sloping distance from instrument to the object.

Angle Measurements

The electronic theodolite part of total station is used for measuring vertical and horizontal angle. For measurement of horizontal angles any convenient direction may be taken as reference direction. For vertical angle measurement vertical upward (zenith) direction is taken as reference direction. The accuracy of angle measurement varies from 2 to 6 seconds.

Data Processing

This instrument is provided with an inbuilt microprocessor. The microprocessor averages multiple observations. With the help of slope distance and vertical and horizontal angles measured, when height of axis of instrument and targets are supplied, the microprocessor computes the horizontal distance and X, Y, Z coordinates.

The processor is capable of applying temperature and pressure corrections to the measurements, if atmospheric temperature and pressures are supplied.


Electronic display unit is capable of displaying various values when respective keys are pressed. The system is capable of displaying horizontal distance, vertical distance, horizontal and vertical angles, difference in elevations of two observed points and all the three coordinates of the observed points.

Electronic Book

Each point data can be stored in an electronic note book (like compact disc). The capacity of electronic note book varies from 2000 points to 4000 points data. Surveyor can unload the data stored in note book to computer and reuse the note book.

Uses of Total Station

The total station instrument is mounted on a tripod and is levelled by operating levelling screws. Within a small range instrument is capable of adjusting itself to the level position. Then vertical and horizontal reference directions are indexed using onboard keys.

It is possible to set required units for distance, temperature and pressure (FPS or SI). Surveyor can select measurement mode like fine, coarse, single or repeated.

When target is sighted, horizontal and vertical angles as well as sloping distances are measured and by pressing appropriate keys they are recorded along with point number. Heights of instrument and targets can be keyed in after measuring them with tapes. Then processor computes various information about the point and displays on screen.

This information is also stored in the electronic notebook. At the end of the day or whenever electronic note book is full, the information stored is downloaded to computers.

The point data downloaded to the computer can be used for further processing. There are software like auto civil and auto plotter clubbed with AutoCad which can be used for plotting contours at any specified interval and for plotting cross-section along any specified line.

Advantages of Using Total Stations

The following are some of the major advantages of using total station over the conventional surveying instruments:

  1. Field work is carried out very fast.
  2. Accuracy of measurement is high.
  3. Manual errors involved in reading and recording are eliminated.
  4. Calculation of coordinates is very fast and accurate. Even corrections for temperature and pressure are automatically made.
  5. Computers can be employed for map making and plotting contour and cross-sections. Contour intervals and scales can be changed in no time.

However, surveyor  should check the working condition of the instruments before using. For this standard points may be located near survey office and before taking out instrument for field work, its working is checked by observing those standard points from the specified instrument station.

Read More:

Modern Surveying Instruments and Their Uses

What is Contour Interval? Its Calculation, Uses and When it is Required

Electronic Distance Measurement Instrument- Types, Functions & Operations

Roles and Work of Surveyor in Construction

About Gopal Mishra

Gopal Mishra is a Civil Engineer from NIT Calicut and has more than 9 years of experience in Civil Engineering and Construction. He is the founder of The Constructor.

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Comments ( 5 )


  2. Operation in Theodolite surveying Here Detailed Article. Triangulation, as imagined by Gemma Frisius around 1533, comprises of making such bearing plots of the encompassing scene from two different

  3. a good instrument for survey works. use it.

  4. I'm Charles N. Kortimai who is studying Geomatic Engineering at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi City, Ghana.

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