Using a simple technology upgrade to protect survey equipment provides a big payoff.
It happens so fast it hardly registers—one minute your total station is next to your survey vehicle, the next it’s gone, picked up by thieves eager to make a quick profit on lucrative technology. Stolen survey equipment is one of the biggest problems faced by surveying firms of all sizes. It’s also costly. Even if your insurance covers a replacement, you’ll have to pay the deductible and scramble to keep your projects on track. File enough insurance claims, and you might find yourself with a deductible as high as the cost of a new total station—or even dropped from coverage completely.
“It’s a huge concern,” says Jason Nakamura, PLS, president and general manager of 1 Alliance Geomatics. “Total station thefts have just gone through the roof over the last four or five years.”
“We wanted to have something to at least be able to try to find our equipment if it was stolen. But even more than that, we wanted law enforcement to be able to catch the thieves so it would deter future thefts.”– Nakamura
The Bellevue, Wash.-based surveying and mapping firm combines an expert staff with the most advanced technology to provide exemplary service to its clients. With a reputation for seamlessly handling complex infrastructure projects, 1 Alliance Geomatics has played a significant role in a number of major projects in the Pacific Northwest. While safeguarding its people is paramount, securing its technology investment is also a top priority. The company has even changed some of its processes to protect against theft—for example, surveyors now set up control points well inside projects rather than on the perimeter to make the total stations more difficult for thieves to access.
Although this strategy has helped, it isn’t foolproof. Pressured by business concerns and his insurance company to find a way to mitigate the risk, Nakamura doubled down on his search for solutions.
Innovative Tracking Technology Shows Promise
Nakamura took his challenge to Andrew Hurley, global commercial manager and surveying business manager at Leica Geosystems, a Hexagon company. 1 Alliance has standardized on Leica Geosystems technology because of its quality, reliability and efficiency, but also because of the exceptional support across all levels of the company. “When it comes to quality and repeatability, Leica is top of the line,” Nakamura says. “Having one platform that does everything makes things so much easier, and we know any issues we have will be resolved quickly.”
In fact, Leica Geosystems had already been working on a solution. Called LOC8, the technology uses the Internet of Things (IoT) to provide remote equipment tracking and locking. Total stations equipped with LOC8 can be tracked to their precise location, with updates every minute. They can be added to safe zones with geofences that alert you anytime equipment is removed from the area. And they can be locked and unlocked remotely through a smartphone or desktop app for complete control over your equipment.
With several new TS16 total stations on order, Nakamura worked with Hurley to be one of the first companies in the U.S. to obtain the new technology. He also developed a plan to systematically upgrade his other equipment as the tracking capabilities were expanded to other models. “We wanted to have something to at least be able to try to find our equipment if it was stolen,” he explains. “But even more than that, we wanted law enforcement to be able to catch the thieves so it would deter future thefts.”
Rapid Equipment Recovery Proves LOC8’s Value
Ultimately Nakamura was hoping to avoid a situation that would require using the tracking service. But then came a fateful day in December 2020, when he got a call early one morning from his crew chief. Someone had broken into the crew chief’s detached garage overnight and had taken one of the company’s total stations packed in its case, in addition to a number of personal items.
“Without LOC8, that total station would have been gone, and we would have been without the technology while going through all the insurance claims. We would have had to rent equipment to keep our projects on track. Instead, we recovered the equipment right away.”– Nakamura
Nakamura pulled up the LOC8 website and immediately saw the location data. Local law enforcement was able to use that information to quickly recover the equipment from the backyard of a house, where it had been hidden under a boat.
A quick check-in with a local Leica Geosystems service center confirmed the equipment hadn’t been tampered with, so 1 Alliance was able to put it right back into use.
“We had already been talking about what a great technology LOC8 was; this situation proved it,” Nakamura says. “Without LOC8, that total station would have been gone, and we would have been without the technology while going through all the insurance claims. We would have had to rent equipment to keep our projects on track. Instead, we recovered the equipment right away.”
Widespread Adoption Provides Business Benefits
As tracking technology becomes standard on survey equipment, Nakamura is optimistic about the impact it will have on the business of surveying. “LOC8 is a huge benefit for insurers because it will lead to more recoveries and fewer claims, which will lower their costs,” he says. “It will also deter thieves from stealing the technology because it’s going to be much more dangerous for them and no longer a lucrative market. Over time, these trends should help drive down the costs of insurance for surveying firms.”
Even more important is the added confidence it brings to the firm. “Our strategy is to invest in the best technology to enable our employees to be efficient and effective and provide the highest level of excellence for our clients,” Nakamura says. “But at the end of the day, we have to be able to protect that equipment to stay efficient. LOC8 is a great investment—minimal dollars, maximum protection.”
Related: How to Safeguard Your Gear with Surveying Technology
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