Historically, surveying equipment might have included:
- Chains with equal size links to measure distance between two points.
- Compasses to measure the direction of a line.
- Solar compasses to measure the direction and latitude of a particular point using the sun and stars.
- Dioptra to measure angles.
- Measuring wheels to measure large distances.
Modern surveying equipment might include:
Theodolites were developed to measure precise horizontal and vertical angles for the purpose of triangulation – determining the location and distance of a point through the formation of triangles.
In its simplest form, a theodolite consists of a moveable telescope attached over perpendicular axis. It is mounted on a tripod head by means of a tribarch containing thumbscrews for tightening and loosening. The theodolite should be placed vertically above the point to be measured using a plumb bob or laser plummet. Tubular spirit bubbles are used to keep the instrument level.
A ‘transit’ is a type of theodolite developed in the early-19th century by railroad engineers. As well as being able to turn horizontally, a transit has a vertical circle and a telescope that can be inverted in the vertical plane.
Modern theodolites use an electronic rotary encoder to read the horizontal and vertical circles to great levels of precision.
A gyro-theodolite comprises a gyroscope mounted to a theodolite and is used, predominantly in mine surveying and tunnel engineering, to determine the orientation of true north. Gyro-theodolites were used during the construction of the Channel Tunnel to align the two tunnels as they were constructed from both France and the UK.
A tachymeter (or tacheometer) is a type of theodolite used for rapid measurements. Similar to a rangefinder, it can determine electronically or electro-optically, the distance to a target.
 Measuring wheel
Surveyors use measuring wheels for quicker and lower accuracy surveys of long distances by rolling it from the start to end point. Each revolution of the wheel measures a specific distance, such as a yard or metre. Counting revolutions with a mechanical device attached to the wheel measures the distance directly.
 Dumpy level
A dumpy level consists of a telescope-like device fitted on a tripod stand and used for establishing or verifying points in the same horizontal plane. Together with a vertical staff, it is used to measure height differences and transfer elevations during building surveys.
- Tilting level: The telescope can be flipped through 180-degrees.
- Auto level or self-levelling level: Includes an internal compensator mechanism which automatically removes any variation when set close to level. This has the advantage of ease-of-use and can be set up quickly.
- Digital electronic level: This uses electronic laser methods to read a bar-coded vertical staff.
Most surveying instruments are fixed on a tripod, which acts as a support. Tripods have three legs which can be extended or lowered as required.
 Total station
A total station is a modern theodolite which is a transit fitted with an electronic distance meter (EDM).
A microprocessor unit in the total station processes the data collected to determine:
- The average of multiple angles measured.
- The average of multiple distance measured.
- The horizontal distance.
- The distance between any two points.
- The elevation of objects.
- All three coordinates of the observed points.
These are now the most commonly used surveying instrument due to their precision and accuracy. Total stations also enable field work to be carried out rapidly with quick calculations of coordinates.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Building survey.
- Condition survey.
- Construction tools.
- Geophysical survey.
- Global positioning systems and global navigation satellite systems.
- How to layout a building.
- Interview with David Southam about laser scanning in construction.
- Land surveying.
- Laser scanning.
- Robotic total station.
- Site surveys.
Featured articles and news
Leaps, not steps, are needed to avoid a ticking time bomb, say BRE in response to Farmer Review.
A multi-purpose hall in France covered in a translucent orange membrane.
Winning designs revealed for a rock formation-influenced residential complex in Rennes.
An article explaining the techniques, regulations and environmental impacts of carbon capture and storage.
Watch one of the first documentaries by the acclaimed Adam Curtis, examining the substandard system building of the 1960s.
Take a look at the tech start-up that could transform construction design and communication.
This house in Barcelona uses an innovative new facade tiling system to blend into the landscape.
The origins, evolution and future of Level 3 BIM.
For new and returning Urban Design students, check out our article list divided up into the modules you'll be studying.
Report states that health of urban dwellers could be significantly improved by rethinking transport design.
The Kremlin, the centre of Russian power, includes some of the country's finest architecture.