Total Station: The Ultimate Guide for Civil Engineering, Construction, and Land Surveying

Total Station: A Comprehensive Guide

The total station is a high-tech surveying tool that is frequently used in land surveying, construction, and civil engineering. It combines electronic theodolite, electronic distance measuring (EDM), and microprocessor technology to precisely measure angles and separations between points on a landscape.

The definition, background, parts, kinds, and applications of total stations will all be covered in detail in this article. We will also go over some frequently asked questions (FAQs), how to use, and its benefits and drawbacks.


For decades, surveying has been a crucial part of civil engineering and land surveying. Theodolites, tripods, and measuring tapes were once the standard tools used by surveyors to calculate angles and separations between points. Unfortunately, the accuracy and speed of these instruments were constrained.

The development of technology has improved the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of surveying. It is one of the most significant technological developments in surveying.

Definition of Total Station

A TS is a cutting-edge surveying tool that combines microprocessor, electronic theodolite, and electronic distance measurement (EDM) technologies. It precisely calculates the angles and separations between terrain features and stores the information in a digital format. Maps, sketches, and 3D models can be made using this digitized data.

History of Total Station

During the 1970s, Wild Heerbrugg, a Swiss business, invented the total station. The DI10 was the first TS and it was released in 1971. It was primarily used for geodetic measurements and had a range of one kilometer.

Whole station technology has advanced greatly over time, resulting in a smaller, more precise, and more adaptable device. Total stations are now often used in land surveying, building, and civil engineering.

Components of Total Station

The instrument consists of three main components:

Electronic Distance Measurement (EDM)

A total station’s electronic distance measuring (EDM) component measures the separation between two places using electromagnetic waves. A prism or other reflector is positioned on the target spot, and the EDM sends off a pulse of radio waves or light that reflects off it. The distance is calculated by the total station using the time it takes for the pulse to return to the instrument and the speed of light or radio waves.

Electronic Theodolite

A total station’s electronic theodolite measures the angles between points on a terrain. A telescope and two perpendicular levels are included with the theodolite, which the surveyor can use to align both vertically and horizontally. The theodolite also contains a mechanism for measuring horizontal and vertical angles that keeps track of the angles between locations.


The data gathered by the EDM and electronic theodolite are recorded by the total station’s microcontroller. The information is kept in a digital format and is accessible through a computer for additional processing and analysis.

Types of Total Station

There are three main types of TS:

2D Total Station

A 2D total station is a basic TS that measures angles and distances in a two-dimensional plane. It is typically used for land surveying and simple mapping tasks.

3D Total Station

A more sophisticated total station that can measure angles and distances in three dimensions is called a 3D TS. It is frequently employed for intricate engineering and construction projects that call for precise measurements.

Reflectorless Total Station

A total station that can measure distances without the use of a prism or reflector is known as a reflectorless TS. In settings where it is challenging to set up a prism or reflector, it employs a laser to measure the separation between two spots.

Applications of Total Station

In civil engineering, construction, and land surveying, total stations have a wide range of uses. The following are some typical uses for TS:

Civil Engineering

For developing and building infrastructure projects including highways, bridges, tunnels, and dams, total stations are used to measure distances and angles. They are also employed in the observation of structural movement and deformation.


Building foundations, walls, and columns are laid out using total stations throughout construction. Throughout the building process, they are also used to inspect the level and alignment of structural components.

Land Surveying

In Land surveying, TS is used to measure the boundaries and contours of the land. Topographic maps and 3D terrain models are also made using them.

How to Use a Total Station

It takes some practice and training to operate a total station. The fundamental procedures for employing a total station are as follows:

  1. Set up the instrument on a tripod and level it.
  2. Calibrate the EDM and the electronic theodolite.
  3. Set the target prism or reflector on the point you want to measure.
  4. Use the telescope to sight the prism or reflector and record the distance and angle data.
  5. Move the total station to the next point and repeat the process.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Total Station

Advantages and disadvantages of Total stations. Following are Some of the advantages of the total station:

  • High accuracy and precision
  • Fast and efficient measurements
  • Digital data recording and processing system
  • Versatility and flexibility

The followings are the disadvantages:

  • High cost and maintenance requirements
  • Training and Expertise Requirements to handle it
  • Limitations in extreme weather and environmental conditions


The total station is a very advanced surveying tool that combines microprocessor, electronic theodolite, and electronic distance measurement (EDM) technologies. It is frequently used to measure angles and separations between points on the terrain in civil engineering, building, and land surveying. A Total station delivers excellent accuracy, precision, and efficiency, but it does take some training and experience.


Questions and Answers (FAQs)

1. Can a total station measure distances and angles in a three-dimensional space

In three-dimensional space, a 3D total station may really measure angles and distances.

2. Do I need a reflector or a prism to operate a total station?

Not always. A total station without a reflector can measure distances without the use of a prism or reflector.

3. Can structural deformation be observed using a total station?

Absolutely, TS can be used to track a structure’s movement and deflection.

4. Is using a TS challenging?

Although some practice and training are needed, operating a total station is not very challenging.

5. What are the primary uses for TS?

In civil engineering, construction, and land surveying, total stations are frequently used to measure angles and separations between locations on a terrain.


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