Route to innovation mapped

20 June 2018

In this year's Budget, the Australian Government committed almost $225 million over four years to programs led by Geoscience Australia that will make reliable positioning data accurate to 10 centimetres available across all of Australia. Areas with mobile coverage will have access to positioning data accurate to 3 centimetres.

According to the Director of Positioning at Geoscience Australia, Dr John Dawson, the investment is about much more than just improving the accuracy of smartphone applications like Google Maps.

"For those who grew up using good old fashioned street directories and a sense of direction, the need to invest in making accurate and reliable positioning data widely available may not be immediately clear," Dr Dawson said.

Geoscience Australia's Positioning for Future Program will provide instant, reliable and accurate access to positioning and timing information anytime and anywhere across Australia

"The reality is that worldwide, positioning technologies that cut costs, reduce waste and improve safety are playing a bigger role than ever before in industry sectors that are at the engine room of Australia's economy, including agriculture, construction, transport and mining.

"On its own, GPS typically provides positioning accuracies of 5 to 10 metres. Gaps in mobile coverage mean that not all of us have access to additional data that allow highly accurate and reliable positioning all of the time. This is especially true for regional and remote areas.

"Although highly accurate positioning technologies are already available in Australia, they are expensive and only available in specific areas to niche markets."

Research has shown that the widespread adoption of improved positioning technologies has the potential to generate upwards of $73 billion of value to Australia by 2030.

Dr Dawson explained that what this actually translates into is the Royal Flying Doctors Service landing in more remote locations; a quicker, easier and safer way to dock the world's largest cruise ships in busy ports like Sydney Harbour; farmers cutting costs and reducing waste by remotely tracking livestock and precisely targeting crops with fertiliser, water and pesticides.

"These are just a handful of the benefits we already know about because of the trial we are currently running that is testing a Satellite-Based Augmentation System for the Australasian region," Dr Dawson said.

Funded by $12 million from the Australian Government and $2 million from the New Zealand Government, the two-year SBAS trial is working with 28 projects from ten industry sectors to identify the return on investment from improved positioning technologies.

"What we're already seeing, is that making accurate and reliable positioning data widely available isn't just about how to make what we already do safer and more efficient, it's also about the opportunities it's creating for Australian innovators to develop new products that can be exported overseas," Dr Dawson said.

"Many countries in the Northern Hemisphere are already using first generation SBAS technology, which is accurate to half a metre. This means a lot of the devices we use every day, like some smartphones, are already fitted with a first generation SBAS receiver.

Inmarsat satellite

"When our trial began in 2017, we not only started testing first generation SBAS technology, we became the first country to test second generation SBAS technology and Precise Point Positioning corrections integrated into a SBAS service.

"The SBAS we are currently trialling augments and corrects positioning signals transmitted to Australia by GPS and the European Galileo system, improving accuracy, availability and reliability.

"Although the trial is the first time a SBAS has been made available in Australia, when it comes to positioning technologies, local business and industry have a history of world-leading innovation. For example, GPS auto-steering invented on a Boggabilla farm in 1993 is now a worldwide standard after entering the United States market in 1999."

Of the $224.9 million outlined in the Budget, $160.9 million will be used to fund a SBAS for Australia beyond the trial that ends in February 2019.

The remaining $64 million will be used to establish the National Positioning Infrastructure Capability. A program of work that includes establishing a national ground station network, improving coordination across government and the private sector, and ensuring Australian industry and business have access to world-leading software tools.

"Geographically, Australia is one of the few countries in the world advantageously located to receive positioning signals from all six international navigation satellite constellations, including emerging Global Navigation Satellite Systems being developed by China, Japan and India," Dr Dawson said.

"The investment in the National Positioning Infrastructure Capability puts Australian business and industry in a great position to develop products and services for export to the  Asia-Pacific region."

"Investing in making accurate and reliable positioning data widely available, maps a route to innovation that ensures not only is Australia keeping up with the rest of the world but starting to set the pace."

Interested in learning more? As part of the Geoscience Australia Wednesday Seminar series, Dr Dawson is giving a public talk on 27 June 2018 at 11:00am in the Sir Harold Raggatt Theatre at Geoscience Australia about the next steps for improving the accuracy and reliability of positioning data in Australia. Register to attend here.

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