Apple Watch to Record Elevation Data


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Curious has anyone  used an Apple Watch or newer iPhone to record elevation data and successfully bring into Chief? If not an Apple Watch are there other devices that are better for doing this?

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Firstly always draw the Boundaries (Plot plan) correctly in CAD never trace them.

1.Surveyor. Get the data file of the Surveyor and import it into chief is the easiest (this way any errors ( if any) are on him).

2 Second Way. Firstly draw the Boundaries correctly in CAD, Then scan as a JPG, a Survey plan, or Screen grab ( windows snipping tool) a scaled Topo plan off the council web site etc. Import the JPG into CAD detail in Chief, Expand it out to match your correctly dimensioned site plan, trace the Topo lines as CAD lines, Don't forget a north arrow for when you turn it later. I usually do this in a CAD window, Group them into a layer, then copy to Main plan.  AS it is grouped at this stage position it, turn it to suit your plan and relationship the the dwelling. Then Convert CAD lines to elevation lines and set the heights manually. This should be quite accurate in 3d.

3. IF ALL else fails. Go out with a dumpy level. Set a datum point. ( manhole cover or  some fixed point.) Take a lot of strategic Heights. Essentially what the builder does when he sets the site out.

NOTE: The accuracy and accountability fall towards you as you go from 1 - 3

Done all 3 LOL. Number 3 as late as last week  which was a small addition/deck for a friend not worthy of expensive surveyors charges. Datum Point was the house floor level.

Good luck

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Whenever I can't get data from a surveyor, I go out to the site with my laser level and shoot elevations myself. I have a Trimble Spectra Precision LL100. It's self-levelling, so it's really easy to set up and start measuring. And with the receiver for the rod, it's a one person job. As @BuildingDesignNZ mentioned, the key is to set a datum point to reference off of. On steep lots or where you have existing structures in the way, you might have to move the laser around a few times, but it's not too bad once you get the hang of it.


Here's an existing small commercial building I shot around a couple months ago. Took about an hour to get all these elevations. Each time I moved the laser, I changed the pen colour on my iPad.


One thing you could maybe use your Apple Watch for, if it's capable of doing so, is record your position (lat & long) for mapping elevations on larger properties as you shoot them with the laser. I know I used my iPhone for that a few years ago and it worked okay. The key is to use a good mapping app. I remember trying a few before I found one that worked well and didn't cost a pile of money, but I don't remember which I settled on (I deleted a bunch of apps off my phone since then)! If I remember correctly, I actually used a hiking app that records your trail as you go and I dropped pins/flags wherever I shot an elevation.  As @dshall said, some of these apps will also record elevation, but the accuracy is nowhere close enough to what I'd consider reliable to build from!

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9 hours ago, lbuttery said:

GPS data from sats used to be 3 meters off or was it 3' (1 meter) ?


this was a requirement by the military


not sure if this has changed




it depends on the equipment and the signal strength. I farm as well and I know the GPS receivers on our machines are capable of precision up to 3”. If we upgraded to RTK receivers, we could increase the precision to under 1”, but the price increase is steep! I imagine higher end surveying equipment uses similar technology. Consumer grade iPhones… not so much!

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How about, simple way to get Topography data, parcel boundaries without Surveyor data: 

1) Get Parlay trial

2) Open GoogleEarth and draw a rectangle on parcel boundary over parlay. Or if you know where property bounds are just draw them without PARLAY. [my state also offers parcel , topo layers so parlay is not needed. 

3) Right click on your boundary shape, and click save as KMZ file.

4) Download Global Mapper [and may be patch], tell it to install DWG autocad addon.

5) Open GlobalMapper, say Open Datafile and load your property boundary.

6) Once loaded, use get external data and choose topography provider of your choice.

7) Select Analysis create topography, choose like 2 ft  lines...

8) Once created: hit digitizer to select your boundary again (will be displayed hashed).

9) Specify export as "Autocad 2018" with elevation labels

10) Right click on topography layer and select LAYER> EXPORT> DWG > [Click on the 3rd tab] and select clip to boundary.  

11) Specify your favorite location for DWG.


Now DWG can be imported into ChiefArchitect (alternatively you can do this as an image).

Whole process takes 5 minutes if you know where to click. Again my state offers both TOPO and PARCEL layers because they think that no one outside of the industry would know how to use them.

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elevation from GPS is typically poor accuracy compared to position data from GPS. I have a few GPSs, they never give the same elevation reading twice, normally a variance of 0.5m.


Another way to get better elevation is from a drone.


Our city offers lidar elevation data for purchase, but that is somewhat limited if there is a lot of cover.

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