A new-age robotic arm will work to calibrate antennae used to track satellites in the Global Navigation Satellite System; many industries to benefit from centimeter-precise location finding, including cell phone communications, earthquake and tsunami surveillance, groundwater and coal seam gas extraction, even vehicle collision avoidance.
CANBERRA TIMES:?It looks like a large drill, but this piece of equipment in South Canberra is no construction tool.
In years to come it may make your smartphone even smarter and help your car drive itself, with scientists believing basic global positioning technology can be accurate to the centimeter by the end of the decade.
The robotic arm will work to calibrate antennae used to track satellites in the Global Navigation Satellite System, including the American GPS, European Galileo, Chinese Compass and Russian GLONASS systems, so they can give more accurate co-ordinate readings when placed in sites around the country.
Launched this May by the Minister for Science and Research Senator Don Farrell, the $1M facility is part of the Australian Geophysical Observing System, which is run by AuScope, a collaboration between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Geoscience Australia, state government agencies and eleven universities.
Australia is an early adopter of the technology, with this robotic antenna calibration device at Geoscience Australia headquarters in Symonston being only one of three in the world. The others are in the US and Germany.
While improved global positioning accuracy may eventually help you locate your smartphone under your couch cushions, the technology’s immediate purpose is to improve the tracking of minute movements of the Earth’s crust.
“We’re interested in looking for earthquake processes, so how the crust forms prior to an earthquake,” head of the National Geodesy Program at Geoscience Australia John Dawson said.
“Prior to an earthquake the crust will deform, and GA is interested in measuring that to underpin our understanding of earthquake hazard.
“At the moment we haven’t been able to calibrate [the antennas], so what that means is, if we’re attempting to measure crustal deformation, we have to observe over really long periods of time, maybe decades, and we think with improved calibrations, we can reduce the time to observe that deformation to maybe less than five years.”
He said it would lead to a greater understanding of the impact of groundwater and coal seam gas extraction, as well as more understanding of why earthquakes occur, enabling better prediction and subsequently increased warning for tsunamis.
“[It] will also underpin a range of industries that are increasingly using precise positioning.”
Dr Dawson said with intelligent transport, within a decade we would see automated mines and automated cars.
He also said projections indicated the technology would trickle down to hand-held positioning devices with their range going from their current average of five to ten meters to within a centimeter within a decade, which would lead the way for new applications for smartphones.
But perhaps the biggest development to come from increased precision is driving and intelligent transport.
”[It’s] initially being driven by safety applications; so the car’s aware of where it is on the road, how fast it’s going, its proximity to other cars, but eventually that will lead to automated driving and all the benefits that will come,” said Dr Dawson.
‘There’s also a huge cost to society with car accidents.”