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Australia is spending millions to make GPS signals more accurate – ANITH
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Australia is spending millions to make GPS signals more accurate

Australia is spending millions to make GPS signals more accurate


GPS accuracy is about to improve in Australia.

Image: Getty Images/Aurora Open

Maybe Australians haven’t noticed, but the little blue marker showing where you are in Google Maps, or even Apple Maps, isn’t as accurate as it could be.

It’s why Australia is spending over A$260 million (US$193 million) to invest in satellite infrastructure and technology to improve GPS accuracy, as part of the Federal Government’s budget announcement.

As it stands, Australians get uncorrected GPS signals that are accurate to five metres (5.4 yards).

To improve that, the majority of the funds will be invested in a Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS), which aims to correct GPS accuracy to around a metre (1.09 yards), across Australia and its maritime zone.

SBAS, which originates from the aviation industry, uses space-based and ground-based infrastructure to remove external errors in a GPS signal. 

The technology has already been implemented in the U.S., Europe, China, Russia, India, and Japan, but an 18-month test began in Australia last June.

“It’s like a first level autocorrect,” Philip Collier, research director at Australia’s Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information, explained to Mashable. 

“It’s relatively easy to achieve that level of accuracy with an appropriate correction signal, but to move to [an accuracy level] that’s better than 10 centimetres, it’s a much more digital problem.”

That’s where A$64 million (US$47 million) of the allocated funds will go. It’ll be invested into the National Positioning Infrastructure Capability (NPIS), to improve accuracy to the decimetre — that’s 10 centimetres — by improving on-ground infrastructure.

“We’re very excited by it,” Collier spoke of the overall announcement. “We’ve been advocating for this sort of investment to improve positioning for Australia for many years … to see it come to fruition is a really great outcome for an applied research centre like ours.” 

Matt Canavan, Australia’s minister for resources, explained in an online statement the practical benefits of the investment include better navigation for both regional aviation and farmers who have livestock over long distances.

Yanming Feng, a professor at the Queensland University of Technology who specialises in global navigation satellite systems, also said the announcement was good news.

“It will improve the accuracy from several metres to 1-2 metres for mass-market users, such as mobile phone and road navigation,” he explained via email. 

“Achieving higher accuracy with SBAS for professional applications has not been well demonstrated. But the investment on NPIS may do so.”

Collier, whose organisation has worked with Geoscience Australia on the SBAS test project, said that the investment will help to demonstrate the system can be highly accurate for professional use.

As for the rest of the allocation, A$36.9 million (US$27.4 million) will be used to fund Digital Earth Australia (DEA), which uses satellite data to track changes across Australia like soil and coastal erosion, crop growth, water quality, and changes to cities and regions.

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Anith Gopal
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