Wind was blowing on the wheat field. The plow was doing his hard job designing geometrical forms on the ground following a precise trajectory. Nobody was driving it. Or, in reality a satellite was controlling it. Farmer John in Michigan was monitoring the activity on his laptop: a detailed map of his land was displayed, including the position of his tractors, percentage of activity completed and remaining time to go. So fa so good, he thought, we will be done before the end of the day. He stared at the sky, black clouds were approaching from west; his smartphone buzzed and delivered him an update on the weather conditions, it would have rained in less than an hour. He packed his equipment and jumped on board of his car, the tractor would have continued without hesitation with centimeter precision, no matter the sun or the rain. This new technology allowed him to reduce the personnel and increase productivity, as the machines were able to work also at night and in any condition without wasting a single spike; yes, he had to learn how to use it and hire a programmer, but in the end it was really efficient.
We probably need some more years to get to satellite accuracy within 1 centimeter, but it will be a game changer and not only for farmers. Current civilian GPS is accurate within about 3 meters, but the next generations satellites aim to reduce it within 1 meter and we are almost there. The U.S. government is spending $5.5 billion on the a project to roll out GPS III, with the goal of making GPS more powerful and more accurate than ever. The same are doing Russia, Japan, India, Europe and several other countries. It’s all well described in a post by Digitaltrends.com
New satellites (in reality “constellations” of satellites) will deliver more bandwidth, higher data speed, have stronger signals and will be resilient to haking and jamming. To go even further, coupling satellite laser ranging (SLR is perfectly described here) and GPS, we will get to centimeters and as the GPS and other signals work also indoor, we can imagine indoor tracking to be not so far. The interesting development of indoor activity is well decribed by the company u-Blox in this page of their website.
All the effort to do what? Commercial applications related to precise point positioning are incredibly copious: land, sea and sky navigation of machines controlled remotely, capable of cm-level horizontal/vertical precision; understand and respond to evolving geo-hazards such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, debris flows, landslides, land subsidence, sea-level change, tsunamis, floods, storm surges, hurricanes, and extreme weather; off-shore exploration; mining vehicle operations; automated farming; en route positioning of maritime vessels and aircraft; road safety; marine construction; real time weather forecasts and others that currently do not exist yet (driverless cars) or we don’t even imagine… and we are speaking about just 10/15 years ahead.
So next time you look at the sky, be sure somebody is watching you.
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