FRAMINGHAM (05/08/2000) - Transportation companies will be among the beneficiaries of a White House decision last week to make more accurate Global Positioning System (GPS) signals available to civilian users.
Since the U.S. Department of Defense started launching GPS satellites in the 1980s, civil users, from hikers to surveyors, have taken advantage of the technology. However, they have been unable to tap into its full potential because of the intentional degradation of the signal to the 100-meter level by the military.
President Clinton halted that practice last week, making the military signal, which is accurate to the 10- to 20-meter range, available to all users.
Richard Langley, a GPS consultant at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, called the significance of that decision "huge," noting that "it will affect a large number of GPS application areas."
In-Vehicle Navigation to Benefit
Langley said in-vehicle navigation systems will quickly benefit from the improved accuracy. "Now, with 100-meter [accuracy], you might not even be positioned on the right road in the display," he said. "With [degradation] turned off, these kinds of matchmaking errors will be reduced."
Freightliner Corp. in Portland, Oregon, plans to capitalize on these enhancements by offering receivers and navigational computers in its 2001 model year trucks.
Paul Menig, director of electrical and electronics engineering at Freightliner, said improved accuracy "will enhance the performance and potentially reduce the cost of navigation systems onboard trucks." He explained that the more accurate GPS would eliminate expenses from using signal-correction techniques.
Even at 10-meter accuracy, the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co.
(BNSF) in Fort Worth, Texas, still finds raw GPS signals insufficient for surveying or train control without correctional systems. However, a BNSF spokesman said, the improved quality of the civil GPS signals could ultimately lower the cost of developing those systems.
The improved signals should also boost GPS-aided smart-farming techniques, said Ron Milby, seed division manager at Growmark Inc., a Bloomington, Illinois-based farm cooperative.
Growmark provides its members with software that helps them use their GPS receivers to manage their crops by the meter rather than the acre. The software helps determine the amount of fertilizer to apply to minute segments of a field by conducting soil analysis with the use of GPS information. At harvest, yield software used with combine-mounted GPS receivers lets farmers determine the success of the fertilizer applications.