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It’s all about location, location, location

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Dawes works with the new GPS equipment

One thing is for sure – the Civil Engineering Technology program, with new equipment and partnerships, is the ideal place to be a Civil Engineering student.

Today, students currently use outdated equipment where they use visual optical equipment and a tape measure, plotting geographical points down to a few meters. But now that the program has new $20,000, Leica GPS surveying equipment, students can map points down to a centimeter.

"It’s like a handheld GPS system on steroids," said a proud Richard Dawes, instructional support technician for the program. "The satellite corrects the information of the surveyor instantly and can be used anywhere."

The new system, which consists of a small touch-screen computer fixed to a receiving poll, uses two frequencies beamed down from available satellites within the sky’s horizon. This dual reception cuts down on errors that the survey equipment receives due to the long distance from the satellite. Plus, antennas based at fixed points around the Portland metro area also broadcast known geographical information via radio signals to the unit and further cuts down on errors.

Rather than use old optical surveying equipment where a student must utilize trigonometry and a tape measure – a process that can take hours or days – now a student can map his or her points quickly and easily.

"A student could create a drawing on the computer and upload it to this and walk to each point on their map until they are finished," Dawes said. "You can be a one-man army."

Dawes should know. He has spent more than 13 years at PCC as a lab technician for Civil Engineering. He supplies instructors and students with support in classes, including helping them orient themselves on the latest equipment. Before that, he spent most of his time in construction, even spending time on Portland’s light rail project, until one day he got tired of the job instability and enrolled in the Civil Engineering Technology program.

Now he’s in charge of acclimating staff and faculty to the new GPS system. And there is a lot to learn. Dawes says the program will start using it for classes this fall term.

"It’s still new to us and new to me," Dawes said. "We know very little of how to operate it."

The system has a wide array of uses. The same unit has been used to survey famous golf courses to develop realistic video games where the elevation matches that of the real thing. Dawes says he plans to use it to help the grounds department track water flow on the Sylvania Campus. Plus, because PCC has the only one, the college becomes a desirable venue for other students around the area to come to Sylvania and hone their skills.

"We’ve had quite a few PSU students come here to use the equipment," he said. "We now have the best equipment of any state school. We are pretty proud because we are definitely leading the way."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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