Can’t decide between a tablet and a data collector? The TSC7 is a bit of a “mashup” between the two.
A new DC (data collector/controller) was announced today by Trimble: the TSC7. The big tablet-style screen on a handheld data collector is the most visible attribute of the TSC7, but of course there is a lot more to the story. And while we can share only what limited info we have learned so far, I had wanted to do a little op-ed about the state of DCs/tablets, and this seemed like a good opportunity. There are (sort of) two camps of field data collection/controller devices for field operation of total stations, GNSS rovers, and other field data acquisition instruments: DCs and the new wave of tablets optimized for field use.
Tablets are gaining popularity (for many users, but not as fast as some might have predicted, or desired). This is happening especially as field software becomes more map-centric and operating updated field instruments like the SX10 works best when you have more screen real estate for split screen operations.
Users either love them or hate them, but once you get used to the ergonomics and get hooked on the bigger screen, a lot of folks (me included) find it hard to go back to the little screens on our old DCs.
On the other hand (no pun intended) the ubiquitous DC is the mainstay for surveyors and other field practitioners – and for good reasons. People like the ruggedness (you can crack walnuts with them, though we don’t recommend) and how the DC and strap fit on your hand or balance on the pole. DCs have been steadily upgraded in software, hardware features, operating systems, and displays. But as we enter a very screen-centric era in our daily lives (smart phones, streaming on tablets, even screens on ‘smart refrigerators’… no kidding), it seems that the tablets are having all the fun. Multi-touch, gesture control, pinch and zoom, better outdoors viewing, connectivity options, etc.
Can’t get the two camps to agree? Then a ‘mashup’ was inevitable – not just the screen size (7” on the TSC7), but in other areas where tablets have excelled. It has been a while since a significant update on DCs has happened. And in Trimble’s case the previous big steps were the TSC2 (solid, color, touch screen, easy to carry) in 2005 and the TSC3 in 2011 (a bit bulkier, and with a lot of new features, but still that relatively small screen). Last year they released the T10 tablet: lots of screen, light, fairly rugged, and with all of the usual millennial-friendly tablet-y features (and a change-up from some chunky tablets back in the day). A new DC was inevitable – some might say overdue.
You can find a lot of details and specs on their website (and a press release circulating today). But here are a few takeaways from a press briefing and calls to folks on their development and marketing teams.
- 7” multi-touch screen. With tablet style gesture controls, like pinch and zoom etc. Improved viewing indoors and outdoors.
- Rugged like the TSC3 – the lower part below the handle is the traditional tapered grip and keyboard folks are used to. It is IP68 rated – submergible (but don’t).
- Keyboard(s). The same style of tactile keys field users like, and you have a choice of a ABDC, or QWERTY backlit keyboards. You can program hotkeys as well.
- You can now pop in new batteries, no cumbersome battery boots.
- Serial is still supported. You can also (make the swap yourself) have two USB. USWB 3.0 is supported.
- Speaking of USBs, you can connect to a PC and the DC shows up as a drive. Nice.
- There are more options for data transfer. There is a sync cable for Trimble Sync, and there are other connect options for cloud services, support etc. As we understand there have been changes to the DC and Access to better interface with TBC.
- Full Windows 10 Pro OS. And “desktop-grade processors” (looking for more specs on that), but with the change to a more common OS you can load other Win 10 compatible programs on it.
- You can dock it and connect one or two screens, plus a standard keyboard and mouse – you can use it as a workstation.
- Two cameras. One forward facing and one facing you. Selfies? Just kidding; this is for video communications like for in-field support.
- New shoulder slings, handbags, and pole mounts, screen protectors and stylus.
- One departure from some old practices: where you bought the software with a DC, you can now move up licenses from old DCs.
- There are small modules you can change yourself – buy them and screw them on. There will be more in the future, but for now the available modules (that they call “Empower” modules… and may I be the first to quip about “empower rangers”) include”
- A 2.4 GHz radio, like used to connect with an SX10
- Barcode imager
- RFID reader
- GNSS receiver. A simple receiver, it can provide rough mapping cords (you could use the DC as a standalone mapping/recon unit) and potentially some track-on-location routines.
Updates to Trimble Access (field collector software) and TBC (Trimble Business Center, office software) were also announced today; look for the press release and subsequent posts about those in the near future.
Short of a test drive – that would answer a lot of additional questions – we asked for feedback from a user. Trimble provided these comments from a beta tester.
Very happy to see that DC development has not stagnated. Digital mobility trends in consumer products were bound to make their way to surveying instruments and field collection devices. There are trends (industry wide) towards more tablets, and more tablet-like features on DCs, and more control of instruments from phones/apps. While not every feature of the TSC7 is necessarily new or unique, it does appear to be a very capable and welcome upgrade to the legacy line. We’ll see about writing up a test drive soon. Oh, and just to be clear, do not crack walnuts or pound in wooden stakes with this or any other data collector.