Smooth sailing for satellite positioning technology trial

26 March 2018

Photographer Maksym Kozlenko

Mega liner Ovation of the Seas is the latest vessel to test highly accurate positioning technology, as part of the trial of a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) for the Australasian region.

SBAS technology was used by Acoustic Imaging in consultation with the Port Authority of New South Wales to help dock the world's fifth largest cruise ship on its most recent visit to Sydney Harbour.

The Chief Operating Officer of Port Authority of New South Wales and Harbour Master, Philip Holliday said Ovation of the Seas is one of the biggest cruise ships to dock in Sydney Harbour during the cruise season.

"Sydney is extremely busy during the cruise season; we have enormous cruise ships coming in virtually every day and intermingled into all of that is ferry and recreation traffic. It's a busy working harbour," Mr Holliday said.

In 2016-17 more than half a million people boarded 344 cruise ships docked in Sydney Harbour.

"People would probably be surprised to learn that we use GPS technology and the old traditional eye balls in getting the ship safely from the [Sydney] Heads all the way through to the birth and then back again in the evening."

The lead scientist of Acoustic Imaging's maritime programs, Nicole Bergersen said the docking of Ovation of the Seas, which is over 330 metres long and too tall to sail beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge, was a unique opportunity to test how the use of SBAS technology could potentially benefit the ports of Sydney Harbour.

"The berth box inside Circular Quay is marginally smaller than the Ovation of the Seas, so the Ovation of the Seas is actually parking with nose protruding out in front of that parking spot. We're on a level where metres matter, and centimetres matter." Ms Bergersen said.

"What SBAS is allowing us to do is have the pilot rely just on the information on the computer screen and if we can enable instrument navigation, then the pilot no longer needs visibility to be able to steer a ship.

"That's going to allow the Port Authority of New South Wales to bring in more ships, more frequently and in adverse conditions."

Mr Holliday said the Port Authority of New South Wales was very keen to ensure they were at the forefront of highly accurate positioning technology and involved as much as possible in the SBAS trial.

The Acoustic Imaging and Port Authority of New South Wales project is one of more than 30 industry sector projects, selected from almost 90 applications.

Industry sector participants are trialling three SBAS technologies, first generation SBAS, second generation SBAS and Precise Point Positioning.

Geoscience Australia's SBAS project manager, Dr John Dawson said while many countries around the world are already using first generation SBAS technology, which improves positioning accuracy to within half a metre, in 2017, Australia became the first country in the world to test second generation SBAS and integrated Precise Point Positioning corrections into an SBAS service.

"Standalone GPS positioning is giving you five to 10 metre level positioning. This is the first time we have been able to broadcast corrections at the 10 centimetre level to the entire country, in fact to the entire region, so it's quite new."

Dr Dawson said the SBAS trial included projects touching on all the major ways people move around the country.

"We're touching all the major transport sectors. We have intelligent and automated vehicle trials going on land, we have some rail projects and of course, the aviation sector is very interested in SBAS technology.

"We also have projects improving the navigation of pedestrians, particularly those pedestrians with visual impairments."

The SBAS trial is s being funded with $12 million from the Australian Government and a further $2 million from the New Zealand Government. It is managed by Geoscience Australia in partnership with the global technology companies GMV, Inmarsat and Lockheed Martin. The Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI) is managing the industry projects which will trial, evaluate and report on the benefits and applications of SBAS relevant to their particular business and sector.

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