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Introduction To Total Stations

April, 15 2021

Total stations are purchased once every 5 to 10 years and are an essential piece of equipment for any surveyor. In this guide, we break down the basics and cover what people often overlook when buying a total station. This article covers the three major parts of a total station: the gun, the data collector, and the software. If you are looking for an in-depth guide on the most critical factors to consider when purchasing a total station, check out our total station buyers guide

Manual Vs Robotic Total Stations:

The first decision you will need to make is choosing either a manual or robotic total station. Manual total stations are much more economical and start around $2,000, ranging up to about $15,000. Robotic total stations offer a more robust experience than manual total stations and start at $15,000, ranging up to about $40,000. 

The main difference between a robotic and manual total station is that robotic total stations are a one-person operation, while manual total stations are a two-person operation. Robotic total stations may have a higher entry point, but you will save money on labor costs down the road. 

The Data Collector 

The data collector is the heart of the total station and our surveying expert, Mariana, states that the data collector is more critical than the total station itself. The data collector is where all the data collection happens, and if you are running a robotic, the data collector is how you will control the total station. The critical factors here are choosing one that is compatible with your workflow, picking an operating system you are comfortable with, and ultimately something that will be intuitive with the software you choose.  


The software is the final piece of the puzzle to running a total station. It works hand in hand with your data collector, and you must make sure the software offers the features you need, is compatible with other pieces of equipment such as GNSS, and is easy enough to understand so you can work efficiently. Ultimately, the better you know your software, the more productive you will be on a job site saving you time and money. 


We hope this guide helps! We found people spend so much time researching the total station that they never put much thought into the data collector or software. Again, remember the data collector is the heart of the total station, and you should spend equal time researching it!  Feel free to give us a call to speak with one of our experts.