3D Modeling Laser Scanning Lidar Surveying Technology

Topographic Survey with SLAM

surveyors discussing a topographic survey

You’ve heard big claims about simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) scanners: The technology can help you complete surveys faster, capture richer context for the site, and improve your deliverables. It can even keep you safer in the field.

But you’re skeptical. As a professional whose reputation depends on choosing the right technology, you need to know more before you commit. How does SLAM scanning actually work? How do you use it for topographic survey? Is the workflow complex? Is it accurate enough? It looks like a black-box technology, so how can you trust the results?

This guide will answer all these questions and more. We’ll begin with the basics of topographic survey, then the pros and cons of today’s most common survey tools. After that, we’ll explain what SLAM scanning is, how it works, how to use it, and what it can do for you.

Let’s get started.

What is a topographic survey?

A topographic survey, sometimes called a topo or detailed survey, maps the boundaries and features of a parcel of land. It produces an accurate map of current topographic conditions, usually as preparation for engineering or construction projects.

Depending on the project, the final survey deliverable might include contour lines, boundary lines, natural features, buildings and structures, curbs, road furniture like signage and lamp posts, utilities, or other features.

Workflow: Traditional topographic survey


Robotic total station, prism, and GPS systems. A robotic total station measures distances and angles with great precision, while a prism is designed to reflect the beam of a total station; GPS equipment provides accurate location on the Earth’s surface.

Set up the total station where it has a clear line of sight to the area being surveyed
Walk to the first feature
Capture survey points for the feature using prism and GPS equipment
Repeat until the survey is complete, moving the prism and GPS equipment as needed
Return to the office
Process and analyze the data
Draft survey deliverables (maps, reports, models, etc.)

Common deliverables

Computer-aided drafting (CAD) map: A 2D map that uses points and line drawings to indicate all necessary details and features.

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