Sometimes I wonder about the final days of all the old technology. Consider the electro-mechanical digitizer. It’s now practically obsolete, but in its day (and that “day” lasted decades) it was a miraculous time saver for doing takeoffs. And, any construction company that had one gained a great advantage over the competition.

Today, companies like Active Takeoff provide software solutions that take up far less room than a digitizer, and, they speed up the takeoff process by making a seamless connection between the takeoff and the estimate. The really neat thing is, today’s takeoff solutions are affordable for any sized construction company. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have a business relationship with the makers of Active Takeoff.)

So, where have all the electro-mechanical digitizers gone? Well, some still get sold at auction sites, but, by and large they’ve faded away. Back in July 2008 I contacted one of the most renown digitizer manufacturers to find out more about them, and that led to this very interesting conversation.

The Last Digitizer

The phone line connected to a quiet place where the once-hectic pace of business had all but ground to a halt.

A stately-sounding gentleman with a thick accent answered the call. I inquired about the digitizers I had seen like the one pictured here, and if these were now interfacing with computers. He said they would, but then informed me rather nonchalantly that the company had sold the last one a month before. He said the company had

been founded by German immigrants and that he had been with it for 58 years. But now he said it was “time to go home.” He talked rather vaguely about earlier survey instruments the company had made since 1929 and about how the business changed after the war.


“After the war we branched out and made all kinds of things,” said Maximilian Berktold, vice president for LASICO (Los Angeles Scientific Company). “Our instruments were all mechanical but in the 70s or 80s we went into electronics. But nobody wants to think anymore, they just want to press a button, and that is what it is. We still have quite a few other instruments in stock. No digitizers.”

My mind conjured up a picture of a bespeckled man sitting at one of those old steel desks with a single pendant light hanging low, like they often have over billiard tables. He told me more about automation- “all you do is start your program, put your values in and that’s it.” He said most of the digitizers the company sold were “long arm” digitizers, and those arms were 35 inches long. He said having that arm made the instrument more accurate.

Listen for the Buzz

“The Army bought quite a few,” he said. “As a matter of fact we just got two in for repair. When we opened up the processor, and pulled the housing, there was a bees’ nest in there. I called in the girl (who works on them) – she already retired, but when we get a repair she comes in. She jumped up a mile in the air when she opened it. What’s the matter, when they use it they don’t hear the bzzzzz? I took photos and sent them to the guy. No wonder the darn thing doesn’t work.”

Maximilian offered to send a packet of information to me, and did. On that call, he told me LASICO closed July 1, 2008. Recently, I tried bringing up the website, but it doesn’t seem to work anymore.  Thanks Maximilian for the information, and sharing some perspectives on life, and the world as you experienced it. I hope the years have been kind.

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