Laser Technology Inc. (LTI) for decades has led the professional measurement and mapping industry through its commitment to innovation and delivering better measurement solutions for a variety of industries, including forestry.
LTI revolutionized professional-grade measurement in 1992 when it created the first handheld reflectorless total station in the world. This groundbreaking device, the Criterion 400, integrated electronic data collection, sensors to measure inclination, azimuth and reflectorless distance measurement. But a late request in that project also spurred LTI’s leadership in a broader revolution for measurement capabilities: digital compass technology.
The Revolution Begins
The Criterion 400 project essentially was commissioned by the United States Forest Service, which sought an electronic solution to measure things like tree height and upper stem diameters. For years, USFS staffers relied on the hip chain, inclinometer and calculator to complete their timber cruising, and this mix of tools often involved numerous “measure, move, repeat” routines that still couldn’t capture the accuracy the agency sought.
Without a more advanced solution, forestry professionals were wading through brush, climbing trees, and balancing from unstable target locations just to capture measurements. The USFS sought a better way to get those measurements quickly, safely and accurately from a single location in a portable electronic device.
LTI set out building and testing the Criterion 400, but shortly after the project began, USFS asked LTI whether they could add an electronic compass to better accommodate traversing and positioning for easier data collection. LTI installed an off-the-shelf electronic compass on the original Criterion 400 to meet the USFS request, and delivered the device in 1992, much to the satisfaction of the Forest Service.
The inclusion of the compass also made accurate coordinate calculation possible in the Criterion. By integrating a laser rangefinder and an electronic compass with a GPS, measurement professionals used offset calculations and eliminated the need to physically occupy every point they sought. The Criterion evolved into a “laser positioning system” that gave live coordinates to all features within range without occupying the point of interest, the early rise of LTI’s trusted GPS offset functionality of today.
But while the Criterion’s portability and usability were great, the tacked-on compass’s tilt limitations left LTI’s engineers feeling like the device was missing something. LTI, with its new Professional Measurement division fully up to speed, went back to the lab to build a better electronic compass.
First and Second Generations
By 1998, LTI had released its MapStar Compass Module, an electronic compass that measured azimuth (directional) angles from Magnetic North with 0.3-degree accuracy, providing measurements like no other device on the market. In fact, the combination of the MapStar and LTI’s Impulse laser rangefinder was the only device of its time that could pivot +/- 90 degrees while keeping the compass sensor-head level, providing exponentially better performance for professional measurement personnel.
The MapStar module caught the attention of measurement professionals in a variety of other industries as their teams began to require similar needs for measuring and mapping utility poles, facility infrastructure, mining features, avalanche routes and more. LTI continued to develop the MapStar system to meet the demand for highly portable measuring devices that seamlessly integrate with GPS/ or Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) technology and interface with third-party field data collection software.
The second generation of MapStar had to deliver on two main requests by users:
- Easier-to-use menus
- Shorter calibration procedures
The aptly named MapStar Compass Module II hit the market in 2003 and enabled the productivity and flexibility the professional measurement community long sought. It calculated azimuth measurement for all types of mapping applications, but the new, simple calibration procedure and streamlined menus dramatically reduced the setup time and process. LTI cut the calibration procedure to less than 60 seconds with simple-to-follow on-board routines, and this easy calibration routine continued into the next generation of LTI products.
TruVector 360 Compass Technology®
By 2007, LTI grew the Mapstar Compass Modules I and II into the exclusive and revolutionary TruVector 360° Compass Technology. Previously, other laser rangefinders with integrated compasses were limited in use by the degree of inclination – the angle above or below horizontal at which the unit was held. Past a certain degree of inclination, compass readings became less accurate and reliable.
LTI built into the TruVector a three-axis compass sensor integrated with a three-axis tilt sensor and distance laser to deliver mapping-grade accuracy and the ability to shoot from any angle. The TruVector not only delivers 1-degree azimuth measurements, but also signals when the compass needs recalibration due to a significant temperature change or drop in battery voltage. This prevents return trips to re-measure a project because the compass was out of adjustment, saving countless hours for operators in the field.
The TruVector compass technology now is the cornerstone for all of LTI’s TruPulse 360 reflectorless laser rangefinders, and professionals in such industries as forestry, telecommunications and utility transmission and distribution can obtain the best possible azimuth and GPS offset accuracy regardless of what pitch or angle they shot from, something no other compass laser rangefinder can do today.
LTI has been developing proprietary compass technology for many years and now integrates that great technology into many of its leading professional rangefinders today. The advanced compass technology behind TruVector, in fact, has made GPS/GNSS laser offsets a widely used practice across so many industries. Integrating a handheld compass laser rangefinder with a GPS/GNSS data collector eliminates the need to physically occupy every point, delivering more practical mapping, easier data collection and huge savings in time, money and resources.
LTI’s commitment to solving its customers’ real-world challenges, such as the ones the Forest Service faced, sparked a revolution in how industries use compass laser rangefinders to map and measure more effectively.