A team of Australian and Japanese researchers have tested a new satellite positioning system that will improve upon the US’ GPS system by additionally transmitting augmentation signals to improve positioning performance, ultimately boosting the productivity of Australia’s rural industries and benefitting the working and personal lives of many, particularly those living in regional and outback areas.
The system is known as the Japanese Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS). The first QZSS satellite is already in orbit. When fully deployed in 2023, the constellation will consist of seven satellites providing 24 hours coverage to the region.
The orbit configuration of these satellites will give continuous coverage at high elevation angles, providing improved satellite navigation in areas that challenge traditional GNSS satellite positioning capabilities, such as central city districts and other obstructed environments.
While intended primarily for users in Japan, the orbit design offers significant advantages to neighbouring East Asia countries, including Australia.
One of the additional augmentation signals – the L-band experimental (LEX) signal – is designed to allow high accuracy positioning in real-time through transmission of corrections for Precise Point Positioning (PPP). This additional data delivery is a critical factor in ensuring the system can provide a continuous centimetre-level positioning service.
Trials undertaken at the Rice Research Australia farm in southern NSW, near the historic rural town of Jerilderie, were completed in January.
The team demonstrated the first time use of a fully robotic tractor (video here), controlled entirely by QZSS, achieving positioning accuracies of around 5cm. Data from the satellite enabled the tractor to track, turn, and operate machinery doing a variety of routine farming operations such as inter-row tillage and fertiliser applications.
The research is a major step toward demonstrating that such a system could provide correction signals to enable precise GNSS-based positioning anywhere (outdoors) in Australia, at any time.
The strength of the system is the provision of wide-area positioning in areas with sparse GNSS ground stations and where mobile phone coverage does not exist. This is particularly important in Australia’s rural and outback areas where the building and operation of additional GNSS ground stations needed for high-accuracy positioning is costly.
The current research is a collaborative effort between Australia and Japan and is funded entirely by the Japanese government.
The team includes Australia’s Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which built and operates the satellite system, RMIT University, University of NSW, University of New England, Hokkaido University, Hitachi Zosen, Hitachi Ltd, Yanmar, Rice Research Australia, SmartNet Australia, C R. Kennedy, and Precision Agriculture.
Although the initial testing was focused on the use of the new technology in precision agriculture, the potential uses of the new service in Australia and elsewhere are enormous.
“From mining to automated guidance of cars, indeed any outdoor application where a level of machine automation is required, this technology has the potential to help,” said Dr Philip Collier, the CRCSI’s Research Director. “My prediction is that this sort of technology will move from sophisticated and expensive installations in machines to mobile phones. People will, in due course, have it in their back pockets.”
The research at Jerilderie is designed to assess the capacity of the LEX signal to deliver high-accuracy, real-time precise point positioning (PPP) consistently and reliably to Australian GNSS users. A series of correction messages relevant to Australian conditions has been developed and were tested as part of the current research project.
“Our objective is to get to the point where users are oblivious to the fact that they are using multiple satellite signals and multiple systems to receive precise, reliable, dependable and accurate position for whatever the application happens to be,” said Dr Collier.
The project is a major part of Australia’s current drive to establish a national positioning infrastructure, which will be a key factor in boosting future Australian productivity and competitiveness in industry and business activities.
For more information on the project, please contact Dr Phil Collier.