If you're in the market to purchase a Trimble RTS instrument (robotic total station) for building construction, the choices can be confusing and overwhelming. We compare and highlight the differences between Trimble's RTS series instruments to help you make the best decision for your application and budget.
Trimble RTS Series Robotic Totals Stations:
RTS stand for "robotic total station". It's important to note that "RTS" is a Trimble brand of instruments developed by Trimble's Building Construction division. Trimble manufacturers other robotic total stations for Land Survey (S series) and Civil Construction (SPS series). Each group within Trimble also develops their own software to pair with their specific instruments. For the Building Construction group that software is Trimble FieldLink, so for compatibility reasons it's recommended to select products from the same division - i.e. FieldLink is optimized to work with RTS series. However, FieldLink is also compatible with the S6 and SPS610, as well as a few other non RTS series.
All of the RTS series instruments are built on the same platform as the original S6 surveying instrument, so other than some slight color changes to the plastic panels, they look nearly identical. The primary differences between RTS instruments are:
- Telescope (with or without)
- Reflectorless measurement range (DR)
- Red or green laser pointer *RTS573 w/o laser
Applications of RTS Instruments with FieldLink software:
- Layout of concrete forms and anchor bolts
- Layout of interior framing
- Layout of hangers, sleeves and underground pipe
- As-built checks
- Implementing Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) and Building Information Modeling (BIM) construction processes
- Topographical measurements
- Project control
- Verifying & tying in to property boundaries
Trimble RTS Robotic Total Stations for Building Construction Compared:
We'll start with the RTS573 and build on, or remove from as we continue through this article.
All instruments are rated by angle accuracy (1", 3", 5"). It's important to note that accuracy is affected by distance. For example, a 5" instrument offers the same 1/8" accuracy as a 3" instrument when shooting distances under 328 feet (200m). However, past 600 feet, the 3" instrument provides better accuracy over the 5". Each datasheet provides examples of accuracy over distance.
Excluding the RTS555 and RPT600, all of the RTS instruments utilize a 2.4GHz radio to communicate from the tablet to the instrument. Per the specification sheets, the "robotic range" is up to 1,560 feet - but keep in mind that is clear line of sight, so real world range can be half of that on a typical jobsite.
The RTS555 is the oldest RTS instrument that was manufactured from 2006-2009. It's a 5" instrument with red laser pointer. The RTS555 utilized standard Wi-Fi to connect between the tablet and instrument which reduce robotic range to under 600 feet. DR HP technology limited the reflectorless laser range to under 500 feet. Originally developed to work with LM80 software, the RTS555 is not compatible with newer versions of FieldLink or other filed software like Access or SCS900.
The RTS573 is a 3" accurate instrument with DR Plus EDM (electronic distance meter) which increases reflectorless working distance over DR HP, allowing you to take measurements without a prism up to 4,265 feet away*. The 3" accuracy is the middle of the road for the RTS instruments which provides typically accuracies of 1/8" (3mm) at a distance of 328 feet away from the instrument. The 573 lacks a visible laser pointer found in other instruments, so it's not intended to use for overhead shots like hangers.
The RTS633 offers the same long-distance reflectorless range and accuracy found in the RTS573 - with the addition of a highly visible red laser pointer which is an essential tool for overhead layout tasks. The RTS633 is one of the original units from 2006-2009, so they are the oldest in the lineup.
One of the original RTS instruments from 2006 - 2009, the RTS655 was outfitted with DP HP (High-precision) which increases the accuracy of reflective distance measurements but with limited range of only 492 feet. Keep in mind, DR Plus and DR HP both offer extended measurement ranges when shooting to a prism, the limitation only affects reflectorless measurements.
The RTS655 offers 5" angle accuracy which is similar performance as a 3" when shooting from distances under 328 feet (about 3mm / 1/8"). Accuracy decreases as distance of your measurements increase.
The RTS673 is part of the newer lineup released around 2015. It offers the same angle accuracy as the RTS573 with the more accurate EDM, so if you don't need the VISION camera, the 673 is the best all around choice of the newer lineup. The RTS673 also offers a highly-visible red light laser beam that is essential for overhead layout tasks. All of the newer RTSx7x instruments include an auto-focus feature which automatically focuses the telescope when manually laying out points. This does speed up the as-built process significantly because you're not spending a lot of time refocusing the instrument for every shot.
The most accurate of the RTS lineup is the RTS771. Offering 1" angle accuracy and DR HP, the RTS771 is the most precise RTS instrument available today. VISION technology integrates a digital camera into the telescope and wirelessly displays a live stream video to your FieldLink tablet, so you can see exactly what the instrument sees. You can also overlay job data including layout points and linework over the image.
The RTS773 offers all of the same features found on the RTS771 with slightly less, 3" angle accuracy. VISION technology integrates a digital camera into the telescope and wirelessly displays a live stream video to your Field Link tablet, so you can see exactly what the instrument sees. You can also overlay job data including layout points and linework over the image.
The RTS873 offers highly visible, auto focusing green been technology, which is several times more visible than red lasers in daylight. The RTS873 takes VISION technology to the next level and omits the eyepiece from the telescope, so no more standing behind the unit. All functions are performed 100% remotely through the FieldLink tablet. This may take some getting use to if your experience has been standing behind the instrument, but the FieldLink software is so intuitive, in a couple of days you'll quickly get comfortable with it.
The most unique instrument of the bunch is the RPT600 (rapid positioning system). It's the only instrument in the group that is not built on the old S6 platform. In fact, the RPT600 is a totally new product that is a collaboration between Trimble and Hilti (Hilti PLT 300). Similar to the RTS873, the RPT600 incorporates Trimble's VISION digital camera with a highly visible green beam laser. With "Auto-station" feature, the Trimble RPT600 is by far the simplest to set up, as it can self-level and self-locate.
The only downside to the RPT600, is that it uses a Wi-Fi connection between the tablet and instrument, which only has a range of about 300 feet max. Additionally, if you are in an area of heavy Wi-Fi traffic, connectivity can be an issue.
RTS Comparison Chart
|Instrument||Angular Accuracy||Telescope||VISION (camera)||Laser Layout||Tracklight||EDM||DR Range*||Prism Range**|
|RTS573||3"||Y||N||NO||Y||DR PLUS||< 4265 ft||< 4200 ft|
|RTS633||3"||Y||N||RED||Y||DR PLUS||< 4265 ft||< 4200 ft|
|RTS655||5"||Y||N||RED||Y||DR HP||< 492 ft||< 4200 ft|
|RTS673||3"||Y||N||RED||Y||DR HP||< 492 ft||< 4200 ft|
|RTS771||1"||Y||Y||RED||N||DR HP||< 492 ft||< 4200 ft|
|RTS773||3"||Y||Y||RED||N||DR HP||< 492 ft||< 4200 ft|
|RTS873||3"||N||Y||GREEN||N||DR HP||< 492 ft||< 4200 ft|
|RPT600||3"||N||Y||GREEN||Y||RPT600||< 164 ft||N/A|
*Depending on environment & reflectivness of surface. See specific product datasheet for additional details.
**Range and accuracy depend on atmospheric conditions, size of prisms and background radiation
RTS Product Specification sheets:
Trimble technology terms
When paired with the MT1000 or AT360 active targets, active tracking technology improves prism tracking, reduces search time and eliminates interference that can be caused by nearby reflective objects.
Trimble DR Technology
Direct Reflex (DR) EDM technology enables measurements to almost any type of surface.
DR Plus offers long-range reflectorless measurements up to 4265 feet*
Kodak Gray Card (18% reflective). . . . . . . >600 m (1969 ft)
Kodak White Card (90% reflective). . . . . . . >1300 m (4265 ft)
HP stands for "High Precision" which offers increased accuracy over DR Plus, but at the expense of distance*
Kodak Gray Card (18% reflective). . . . . . . >120 m (394 ft)
Kodak White Card (90% reflective). . . . . . . >150 m (492 ft)
Ensures accurate pointing and measurements by actively correcting for unwanted movements like wind, handling, and sinkage.
Automatic Servo Focus
Sets the optical focus for quick manual aiming when monitoring points in DR mode.
VISION technology integrates a digital camera into the telescope and wirelessly displays a live stream video to your Field Link tablet, so you can see exactly what the instrument sees. You can also overlay job data including layout points and linework over the image.
A great choice for mid-range budgets can be the RTS655, RTS673 and RTS633. The RPT600 is also a great economical choice, but has a limited range and can be difficult to use in areas of heavy Wi-Fi traffic. If your application requires visual verification (VDC) look at the top of the line RTS773 and RTS873. If it's all about accuracy and FieldLink software is your preferred field software, the RTS771 might be the tool for you.
Please use this information as a guide to help you make your purchasing decision. Some features and functions listed as “standard” or “optional” may change over time.
Preowned RTS instruments are always coming in and out of stock so we recommend checking the link below for our current RTS inventory. It's also worth noting that some S and SPS instruments are also compatible with some versions of FieldLink software, so check those too.