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Article taken from "Backsights" Magazine published by Surveyors Historical Society


by Wilfred Airy

tacheometer.JPG (91368 bytes)Tacheometry, from the Greek "quick measure", is a system of rapid surveying, by which the positions, both horizontal and vertical, of points on the earth's surface relatively to one another are determined without using a chain or tape or a separate leveling instrument. The ordinary methods of surveying with a theodolite, chain, and leveling instrument are fairly satisfactory when the ground is pretty clear of obstructions and not very precipitous, but it becomes extremely cumbrous when the ground is much covered with bush, or broken up by ravines. Chain measurements are then both slow and liable to considerable error; the leveling, too, is carried on at great disadvantage in point of speed, though without serious loss of accuracy. These difficulties led to the introduction of tacheometry, in which, instead of a pole formerly employed to mark a point, a staff similar to a level staff is used. This is marked with heights from the foot, and is graduated according to the form of tacheometer in use. The azimuth angle is determined as formerly. The horizontal distance is inferred either from the vertical angle included between two well-defined points on the staff and the known distance between them, or by readings of the staff indicated by two fixed wires in the diaphragm of the telescope. The difference of height is computed from the angle of depression or elevation of a fixed point on the staff and the horizontal distance already obtained. Thus all the measurements requisite to locate a point both vertically and horizontally with reference to the point where the tacheometer is centered are determined by an observer at the instrument without any assistance beyond that of a man to hold the staff.

The inconvenience of the reduction work necessary to obtain the horizontal and vertical distances produced the Wagner-Feunel tacheometer, by which the distances can be read directly from the instrument. As is seen in the drawing, three scales are provided, to measure the inclined distance, the horizontal distance, and the vertical distance respectively. All three are arranged in a plane parallel to the plane in which the telescope turns. The inclined scale is attached to the telescope exactly parallel to its line of collimation, and moves with it. The horizontal scale is fixed to the upper horizontal plate of the theodolite. The vertical scale is on the vertical edge of a right-angled triangle, which can be slid along on the top of the horizontal scale. The inclined scale carries a slide which is provided with two verniers. One of these is parallel to the inclined scale, and is for the purpose of setting off on the scale (in terms of the divisions on the scale) the inclined distance of the staff from the axis of rotation of the telescope. The other turns on a pivot whose center is accurately in the edge of the inclined scale at the point where the zero division of the inclined vernier cuts the edge, and is for the purpose of reading the vertical scale; it can be turned on its pivot so as to be vertical whatever may be the inclination of the telescope. Moreover, since the distance from the center of the pivot to the zero of the vernier is always constant and known, the vertical scale can be graduated so that the reading of the vernier gives the height (in terms of the division on the scale) of the staff above the axis of rotation of the telescope. The horizontal scale attached to the horizontal plate of the theodolite is read by means of a vernier carried by the triangle. To ascertain the horizontal and vertical distances of the point on the staff which is cut by the middle wire in the diaphragm of the telescope from the rotation axis of the telescope, the inclined distance of the point on the staff is read by means of the wires. This distance (in terms of the divisions) is then set off on the inclined scale by means of the inclined vernier, and the vertical scale on the triangle is moved up to the vertical vernier, which is adjusted to its edge. With proper graduation of the horizontal and vertical scales the horizontal and vertical distances can be at once read off on the scales. This method, however, requires that the staff be held so that its face is perpendicular to the line of sight, which is more troublesome than holding the staff vertical.

From "Tacheometry", The Encyclopedia Britannica. 11th Edition, 1911.

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