Geospatial information forms a critical part of many IoT solutions, and Australia is at the forefront of driving improvements to its accuracy, according to one executive.

Dr Peter Woodgate is the CEO of the Australia and New Zealand Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information, and was instrumental in Australia’s winning bid to host the upcoming Digital Earth Symposium in Sydney.

In the lead-up to the event, he sat down with IoT Hub to talk about the role that Australia is playing in the development and use of more accurate geolocation data and how it will impact businesses and citizens locally.

“Over the last twelve months, the Australian spatial industry has come together to develop a ten-year spatial industry transformation and growth agenda,” Dr Woodgate said.

“There have been high-level workshops involving 500 people across all capital cities and the result of that is the development of an action with approximately 30 transformative initiatives in it.”

These initiatives cover numerous topics, from entrepreneurial and innovation activity, to research and development, innovation and outreach.

Dr Woodgate and his working group co-chair Glenn Cockerton, MD of Australian company Spatial Vision, will be presenting this action plan to the public for the first time at the symposium.

He also said that a new initiative for enabling high-accuracy spatial data, called space-based augmentation systems, will be revealed at the symposium.

“A few weeks ago, the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand announced $14 million in funding for this initiative, and what will do is enable the two nations to link up to a new Inmarsat satellite that promises to improve the accuracy of GPS systems from five to ten metres down to one metre, and maybe down to the decimetre level,” he explained.

“The funding will be used to run a number of testbeds over the next two years in priority industries to see if this can be brought together as a reality.”

Which industries will be involved?

Dr Woodgate said that the agriculture and transport industries will be among those prioritised to participate in this testing of the space-based augmentation system.

He said that the agricultural industry’s use of precision farming and control-of-traffic farming, require a higher level of accuracy than can currently be achieved with existing GPS technologies.

“Those precision agriculture farmers need to be able to position their equipment at around about five centimetres of accuracy, and standard GPS systems are only providing five to ten metres of accuracy,” he explained.

“Transport will be involved as well, including road, rail, maritime and aerial transport, as well as a range of other industries.”

Dr Woodgate said that a single Inmarsat satellite in a geostationary orbit over the A/NZ region will work in tandem with ground-based stations that will help perform corrections, and also taking signals from nearby GPS satellites as the positioning constellation that provides the backbone from the satellite’s perspective,” he said.

“At this stage, only eight percent of Australia is covered by the ground-based correction network, and we hope to extend that to the rest of Australia in the coming years.”

Added functionality via global satellites

Dr Woodgate said that not only is Australia looking to improve on its own spatial accuracy, it’s also looking at the developments currently underway overseas and tapping into the data provided by their systems.

“There are five other GPS-like systems that are up there or in the process of being developed from Russia, the EU, Japan, China and India, and the national positioning infrastructure is currently solving all of the signal processing challenges to be able to ingest the signals from all of those systems and offer them as a high-precision, highly reliable service to Australia,” he explained.

This extension to connect to other satellites is significant because two of those other systems – the Japanese and Indian systems – have a coverage footprint that extends over Australia as well.

Furthermore, the Japanese system also contains a communication channel as well as a positioning channel, which means that commands could potentially be sent to Australian field devices via satellite.

Dr Woodgate said that early trials of this communications method have recently completed in sugar cane plantations in north Queensland, and have yielded promising results.

“There are a few challenges we need to overcome before we can make this technology operational, but we’re well on our way to being able to build that system into the national positioning infrastructure as another capability, on top of the five-centimetre positioning accuracy.”