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Product review: Rugged tablet tackles survey tasks

Photo: DT Research

Photo: DT Research

Technology continues to develop and put more capability, data storage and ease of use into many professional’s hands, and surveyors are no different in their needs.

Spatial data collection has become an important task in the diverse service world of today’s surveyor with a variety of platforms, sensors and techniques being used to provide this operation.

The movement toward completing a “digital twin” of existing improvements and facilities worldwide has opened the door for new means and methods for data collection. Surveyors are taking a front-line role in producing the spatial data necessary for much of the internal and external infrastructure being used in today’s cutting-edge digital modeling.

Necessary accuracy and precision

However, not all data-collection systems offer the accuracy and precision deemed necessary by today’s surveying profession. These systems also need to be tough enough to handle the environmental conditions surveyors face in their everyday work, yet be user-friendly enough to make the data-collection process efficient.

Surveyors require a system designed for rugged use, yet built with a high-visibility screen, easy-to-use interface and reasonable battery life to allow effective and confident data collection. Many data collectors tout these features, but many of them fail when subjected to the harsh conditions of surveying and construction sites.

Times, however, are a changing and a new tablet is raising eyebrows.

DT Research Inc., a Silicon Valley electronics provider, has provided mobile and medical computing devices to many professions for more than 20 years. They have taken one of their most popular models, the DT301, and added integrated significant upgrades that brings it squarely into the surveying and geospatial world.

This rugged tablet can now include a multi-frequency GNSS module and a second, 3D-capable, stereo-imaging camera for capturing photometric information.


Here are the overall specifications for the DT301X-TR Rugged Tablet:

  • Intel 8th-generation core i5/i7 processor
  • Microsoft Windows 10 IoT Enterprise operating system
  • 10.1-inch sunlight readable capacitive touch screen
  • High-capacity, hot-swappable battery pack with power-saving modes
  • IP65-rated for water and dust resistance
  • MIL-STD-810G for shock and vibration protection
  • MIL-STD-461F for EMI and EMC tolerance
  • Multi-frequency GNSS (including GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and BeiDou)
  • External GNSS antenna capable
  • Intel RealSense Depth camera, 2D barcode scanner
  • Long-range Bluetooth, 4G LTE, digital pen support
  • Sturdy external keyboard with various mounts for static installation
  • Rugged yet reasonable weight of 3.1 pounds
  • Multiple mounting options for precise measurement

Rugged, but not too heavy

The first impression a new user of the DT301X-TR will notice is that while it is heavier than the normal personal tablet, it is very rugged yet not noticeably heavy. The additional weight it does carry, however, gives the user a sense of durability and confidence to take it into fouler environments without fear of infiltration or hazardous climate concerns.

The external bumpers can take significant abuse, and the rubber rear guard is used for gripping the tablet effectively during data collection tasks. Several mounts are available for this unit, including a pole mount in conjunction with the external GNSS antenna for higher accuracy location determination.

This unit runs the Microsoft Windows 10 IoT (internet of things) Enterprise operating system, so most users will already have a general feel for the overall interface. All the normal Windows tools are there (email, browser, etc.), so little training is needed for beginners.

Connectivity is available through dual-band Wi-Fi and/or 4G LTE communications as well as long-range Bluetooth connections where needed. The unit runs on an Intel 8th-generation core processor and SSD storage for fast computing and data access needs.

In addition to computing performance, this model also exceeds expectations with its robust screen. Where most high-def screens on phones and tablets suffer in daylight conditions, the DT301X-TR allows the user to maintain great visibility and keep working with visual confidence.

GNSS module and antenna

The DT301X-TR can be loaded with several data-collection software packages, depending on your application. For traditional surveying, Microsurvey’s Field Genius is used for locating survey points with the GNSS module. Several programs for data collection are available, depending on the accuracy required by the user.

Photo: DT Research

Photo: DT Research

A helical mobile dual-frequency GNSS antenna is mounted directly on the tablet for receiving survey-grade positions with an RTK correction service. The tablet can also be used with an external GNSS antenna mounted on an extendable pole for a more conventional surveyor-style method of data collection while providing stability for the user.

The data-collection process for mapping is intuitive and allows for uploading existing shapefiles for reference to existing conditions. Exporting information after the data-collection task can be completed in two different formats: shapefiles and KML files.

Photo: DT Research

Photo: DT Research

For the higher accuracies typically required for surveyors, the unit utilizes the pole mount to ensure the accuracy level is not compromised by human interaction, and it connects to an external GNSS antenna. The software allows the user to collect more precise locations through several means: static, real-time kinematic from the user’s base station, or through a real-time network solution from an external source.

The data collection process in Field Genius is very user friendly and allows for customized point naming and automatic linework between points. Field Genius also contains standard COGO tools and routines that allow the user to perform field calculations right on the job, saving valuable time and money for the practitioner and the client.

Exporting of field data is robust and allows for creation of DXF/DWG files of linework and LandXML files for surface and point downloads. The user can also export raw data in a GNSS Survey format or the industry standard “field book” format as well. Importing background files is just as simple, so the user can have additional information at their fingertips for reference during their data collection process.

Also, the DT301X-TR can be utilized for construction staking with an extensive array of staking reports available for user verification. Proposed TIN surface models can be imported for site and roadway staking for placing cut/fill points on the fly.

Cameras make it shine

The DT301X-TR, however, is not just a fancy conventional surveying data collector; the Intel RealSense Depth camera and DOT3D Pro software from DOT Product is the latest development to be added to the rugged tablet that makes this platform shine. This latest technology from Intel allows the user to photograph and video spaces that even the newest laser and lidar scanning equipment can’t access.

Stereo depth modeling is enhancing the data-collection process for surveyors as a new tool to collect important information for engineers, architects and contractors. By collecting close quarters information in real time, a more complete BIM and/or “digital twin” data set can be accomplished faster and more cost efficiently than ever.

This version of remote sensing is becoming very popular with other vehicles and platforms (such as UAVs), yet being integrated into a single unit with GNSS capability is key to making the DT301X-TR a game changer.

The divide between the macro (GIS mapping) and micro (traditional surveying) of spatial data collection is closing, but it will take some time before satisfying the surveying community. The DT301X-TR is closing that gap by marrying the accuracy of GNSS measurement with the precision of 3D analyzation technology.

DT Research began by creating a bulletproof tablet made for durability and dependability, but has raised the bar with a state-of-the-art satellite measurement module and remote-sensing capability through the RealSense camera system.

Wrapping all this technology into a rugged unit running on an industry-standard software platform, DT Research has provided an insight to what the future of data collection looks like, no matter what profession one is in.

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