The world’s most accurate GPS service could be on its way to Australia, thanks to collaboration between the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI), Geoscience Australia and Land Information New Zealand.
The pilot project, called a Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS), will improve GPS accuracy from several metres to less than one metre – and potentially down to a few centimetres.
“This is the first opportunity we’ve had to test this technology in Australia,” says Dr John Dawson from Geoscience Australia. “It’s also enabling us to test the next generation of this technology, and it really will provide unprecedented positioning accuracy for Australia and New Zealand.”
GPS satellites orbit at a constant, relatively well-known height above the Earth. They transmit precise time signals by measuring the difference between those time signals and its own clock, a GPS receiver can figure out how far away the satellites are. With three or more signals from different satellites, the receiver can calculate where it is on the surface of the Earth.
But these signals from space aren’t perfect. They are affected by variations in the satellite’s clocks and orbit, and by conditions in the atmosphere between the satellite and receiver. These error sources mean that the usual accuracy of a position calculated using GPS is five to 10 metres.
SBAS will use stationary receivers across the continent to measure these errors, calculate a correction, then broadcast that correction to GPS users using another satellite. With this data, the accuracy of a GPS location can be improved to less than a metre.
“We anticipate that most Australians’ devices will be able to see that signal, and exploit the improved positioning,” says Dawson.
“What we’ll be trialling, for the first time in the world, is a new sort of correction message that has the potential to get accuracy down to 10cm,” says Dr Phil Collier, research director at CRCSI.
“Our role will be to work with organisations across industry to run trials, demonstrations and research projects to find out what applications exist for this technology, and what the benefits are to those sectors,” he says.
“For precision agriculture, for example, where tractors are driving themselves around, an accuracy of 5cm means they’re not running over crops in the paddock.”
CRCSI and Geoscience Australia are seeking expressions of interest from industry to test potential applications of the new system, which is expected to begin operation from July 2017.
“This capability opens up a raft of applications in many fields. Mining, agriculture, transportation – the higher precision is a very tantalising prospect,” says Collier.
Disruption can mean a lot of things. Dictionary definitions include “a forcible separation” or division into parts. More recently it has come to mean a radical change in industry or business. This brings to mind huge technological innovations. But what if it’s as simple as realising that a handheld device for detecting nitrogen could also be used to gauge how much feed there is in a paddock; that drones can be adapted to measure pest infestations; that communities can proactively track the movement of feral animals.
These are just some of the projects that Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) are working on that have the capacity to change crop and livestock outcomes in Australia, improve our environment and advance our financial systems.
Data and environment
Mapping pest threats
Invasive animals have long been an issue in Australia. But a program developed by the Invasive Animals CRC called FeralScan is taking advantage of the widespread use of smartphones to combat this problem.
The program involves an app that enables landholders to share information about pest animals and the impacts they cause to improve local management programs.
Peter West, FeralScan project coordinator at the NSW Department of Primary Industries, says the team wouldn’t have thought of a photo-sharing app without genuine community consultation.
The project has been running for six years and can record sightings, impacts and control activities for a wide range of pest species in Australia, including rabbits, foxes, feral cats, cane toads and myna birds. West says that it now has 70,000 records and photographs, and more than 14,000 registered users across the country.
“For regional management of high-impacting pest species, such as wild dogs, what we’re providing is a tool that can help farmers and biosecurity stakeholders detect and respond quickly to pest animal threats,” says West.
“It enables them to either reprioritise where they are going to do control work or to sit down and work with other regional partners: catchment groups, local biosecurity authorities and the broader community.”
The app won the Environment and Energy Minister’s award for a Cleaner Environment in the field of Research and Science excellence at the Banksia Foundation 2016 Awards in December. Recent improvements to the app include the ability to monitor rabbit bio-control agents.Plans for the future include upgrading the technology to alert farmers to nearby pest threats, says West.
Also in the information space, the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC (BNHCRC) is investigating reasons we don’t pay attention to or ignore messages that notify us of an impending fire or floods. Researchers are using theories of marketing, crisis communications and advertising to create messaging most likely to assist people to get out of harm’s way.
“The way we personally assess risk has a big impact on how we interpret messages. If I have a higher risk tolerance I will probably underestimate risk,” says Vivienne Tippett, BNHCRC project lead researcher and professor at Queensland University of Technology. “We’ve worked with many emergency services agencies to assist them to reconstruct their messages.”
Instead of an emergency message with a brief heading, followed by the agency name and then a quite technical paragraph about weather conditions and geography, Tippett’s team has worked on moving the key message up to the top and translating it into layperson terms. For example, a message might now say something like: “This is a fast-moving, unpredictable fire in the face of strong winds.”
Tippett’s team is constantly working with emergency services to make sure their findings are made use of as quickly as possible. “The feedback from the community is that yes, they understand it better and they would be more likely to comply” she says.
The Plant Biosecurity CRC is using unmanned aerial systems (UAS or drones) to improve ways to detect pest infestations in vast crops. Project leader Brian McCornack is based at the Kansas State University in the US.
“The driver for using unmanned aerial systems has been in response to a need to improve efficiency [reduce costs and increase time] for surveillance activities over large areas, given limited resources,” says McCornack. “The major game-changer is the affordability of existing UAS technology and sophisticated sensors.”
The project is now in its third year and adds an extra layer of data to the current, more traditional system, which relies on a crop consultant making a visual assessment based on a small sample area of land, often from a reduced vantage point.
The international collaboration between the US and the Australian partners at QUT, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the NSW Department of Primary Industries means the project has access to a wide range of data on species of biosecurity importance.
The CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI) has also been working on repurposing an existing gadget, in this case to improve the accuracy of estimating pasture biomass. Currently, graziers use techniques such as taking height measurements or eyeballing to determine how much feed is available to livestock in a paddock. However, such techniques can result in huge variability in estimates of pasture biomass, and often underestimate the feed-on-offer.
Professor David Lamb, leader of the Biomass Business project, says graziers underestimate green pasture biomass by around 50%. There could be a huge potential to improve farm productivity by getting these measures right.
Through case studies conducted on commercial farms in Victoria, Meat and Livestock Australia found that improving feed allocation could increase productivity by 11.1%, or up to $96 per hectare on average, for sheep enterprises, and 9.6% ($52 per hectare) for cattle enterprises.
The CRCSI and Meat and Livestock Australia looked at a number of devices that measure NDVI (the normalised difference vegetation index), like the Trimble Green Seeker® and the Holland Crop Circle®. The data collected by these devices can then be entered into the CRCSI app to provide calibrated estimates of green pasture biomass.
Graziers can also create their own calibrations as they come to understand how accurate, or inaccurate, their own estimates have been. These crowd-sourced calibrations can be shared with other graziers to increase the regional coverage of calibrations for a range of pasture types throughout the year.
In July 2016, the federal government announced funding for a partner project “Accelerating precision agriculture to decision agriculture”. The Data to Decisions Cooperative Research Centre (D2D CRC) has partnered with all 15 rural research and development corporations (RDCs) on the project.
“The goal of the project is to help producers use big data to make informed on-farm decisions to drive profitability,” says D2D CRC lead Andrew Skinner.
He says that while the project may not provide concrete answers to specific data-related questions, it will provide discussion projects for many issues and concerns that cross different rural industries, such as yield optimisation and input efficiencies.
Collaboration between the 15 RDCs is a first in Australia and has the potential to reveal information that could shape a gamut of agricultural industries. “Having all the RDCs come together in this way is unique,” says Skinner.
The Capital Markets CRC, in conjunction with industry, has developed a system that allows it to issue and circulate many digital currencies, securely and with very fast processing times – and because it is a first mover in this space, has the potential to be a global disruptor.
Digi.cash is a spinoff of the Capital Markets CRC and is specifically designed for centrally issued money, like national currencies.
“Essentially we have built the printing press for electronic coins and banknotes, directly suited to issuing national currencies in digital form, as individual electronic coins and banknotes that can be held and passed on to others,” says digi.cash founder Andreas Furche.
A currency in digi.cash’s system is more than a balance entry in an accounts database, it is an actual encrypted note or coin. The act of transfer of an electronic note itself becomes the settlement. This is in contrast to legacy systems, where transaction ledgers are created that require settlement in accounts. So there is no settlement or clearing period.
“We have a advantage globally because we were on the topic relatively early and we have a group of people who have built a lot of banking and stock exchange technologies in the past, so we were able to develop a product which held up to the IT securities standards used in banking right away,” says Furche.
Digi.cash is currently operating with a limit of total funds on issue of $10 million. It is looking to partner with industry players and be in a leading position in the development of the next generation financial system, which CMCRC says will be based on digitised assets.
Passive radar, as developed by the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST), has been around for some time, but is being refined and re-engineered in an environment where radiofrequency energy is much more common.
As recognition of the disruptive capabilities of this technology, the Passive Radar team at DST was recently accepted into the CSIRO’s innovation accelerator program, ON Accelerate.
Active radar works by sending out a very large blast of energy and listening for reflections of that energy, but at the same time it quickly notifies anyone nearby of the transmitter’s whereabouts.
“Passive radar is the same thing, but we don’t transmit any energy – we take advantage of the energy that is already there,” explains passive radar team member James Palmer.
The technology is being positioned as a complement for active radar. It can be used where there are more stringent regulations around radar spectrum – such as the centre of a city as opposed to an isolated rural area. Radio spectrum is also a finite resource and there is now so much commercial demand that the allocation for Defence is diminishing.
Although the idea of passive radar is not a new one – one of the first radar presentations in the 1930s was a passive radar demonstration – the increase in radiofrequency energy from a variety of sources these days means it is more efficient. For example, signals from digital TV are much more suited to passive radar than analogue TV.
“We are at the point where we are seeing some really positive results and we’ve been developing commercial potential for this technology,” Palmer says. “For a potentially risky job like a radar operator the ability to see what’s around you [without revealing your position], that’s very game changing.”
There is also no need to apply for an expensive spectrum licence. The Australian team is also the first in the world to demonstrate that it can use Pay TV satellites as a viable form of background radiofrequency energy. The company name Silentium Defence Pty Ltd has been registered for the commercial use of the technology.
Coastal Risk Vanuatu is an open access website created to give individuals, residential groups, and local and national governments awareness and knowledge of how coastal communities in Vanuatu will be affected by sea level rise and coastal flooding.
Developed by NGIS Australia and the CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI), the website is meant to empower people living on the coast to take proactive steps to act on sea level rise.
“The Coastal Risk Vanuatu website will build awareness regarding the challenges that Vanuatu faces with climate change, and will ultimately lead to more effective decision making”, says Director General of Climate Change Vanuatu, Jesse Benjamin.
This project, funded by the Australian Government, provided hands-on knowledge about mapping the coastline. It delivered coastal mapping and risk assessment capacity building and training to 190 people in four Pacific nations.
Coastal Risk Vanuatu is an open interactive sea level rise platform, based on the Vanuatu digital elevation model. It incorporates social media photos and Pacific Community UAV imagery captured during the first response recovery post Cyclone Pam in 2015; demonstrating the value of imagery during disaster recovery.
“Building on the technical capabilities drawn from Australian research agencies, we now have the ability to accurately map coastlines to understand the impact of changing sea levels”, says Dr Nathan Quadros, Program Manager at CRCSI.
“Given our previous work in the Pacific Islands and the strong ties we have developed in the region, it is fitting that we extend our knowledge and expertise to vulnerable coastal communities, governments and NGO’s,” says Quadros.
“Through this easy-to-use sea level rise visualisation tool Vanuatu will have access to the best information for their coastal adaptation planning”.
Insight into the impact of rising sea level is hoped to aide Government and local agencies and guide stakeholders through better policy decisions. It will also assist NGO’s and emergency services to prepare for worse-case scenarios during coastal storms and flooding.
“With growing interest in the Pacific Region to be “climate ready”, we envisage further localised coastal risk websites to be developed in the coming months”, says Quadros.
“We encourage you to explore the layers and coastal knowledge captured in this website and provide feedback to email@example.com”.
– Jessica Purbrick-Herbst
This article on the coastal flooding webtool was first shared by the CRCSI on 14 December 2016. Read the original article here.
Blockchain technology is the innovation behind Bitcoin. It has the potential to disrupt many industries by making processes more democratic, secure, transparent and efficient, and is currently approaching the peak of its hype cycle.
In late October, the CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI) hosted a Student Day Solvathon, which focused on blockchains in spatial technology. Paul X. McCarthy from Online Gravity and Mark Staples from Data61 facilitated discussion and inspired 20 PhD students to think creatively about how blockchain technology could be applied.
The students divided into four teams with each team given the challenge to design an innovative use of blockchain tech in an application area relevant to current CRCSI research programs and initiatives. They created four initiatives:
Blockchain Technology in the Red Meat Supply Chain
This idea taps into the $15.8 billion red meat industry in Australia. With only 35% of cattle currently meeting the Meat Standard Australia (MSA) standard, the traceable open ledger capabilities of a block chain implementation could provide consumers, farmers and suppliers with greater confidence on the certification process. Increased uptake on MSA certification positively impacts the Australian economy as every 1% increase of certified meat equates to $40 million of additional returns.
Differing from traditional centralised database systems, the open ledger system requires the complete life history of a piece of meat to be well documented and made available across all players in the supply chain. Automated transaction verification techniques using location and timestamp from GNSS, RFID or DNA barcode information is added to the blockchain database when the cattle or meat is transported from one location to another. This not only optimises the supply chain, but also adds value to the quality of meat sold to the consumer. All this information will be able to be accessed from a smartphone, where a series of displays showing quality metrics of great interest to the consumer: an environmental score; a wellness score; a taste score; and other extra data that supports the purchase such as recommended or optimised recipe selections for that particular cut.
Blockchain Technology in Health
Attacks on hospitals and civilian targets are clear violations of international law and an urgent problem in war zones that can be addressed by a new arrangement of existing technologies and organisations. A systematic solution to this could be one which provides transparent, decentralised, immutable, publicly available records of humanitarian activity used to visualise the location of verified humanitarian facilities.
The decentralised nature of a blockchain could allow untrusting involved parties to agree or trust the validity of information. Records can be immutable and transparent, so there would be traceability and increased accountability. If this platform was augmented with crowdsourced data, there could be continuous verification from multiple sources agreeing or converging on the location of a hospital. In essence, this would be decentralising and democratising humanitarian map data in conflict zones to support policy makers, governments, negotiators, experts in international relations and law (UN, WHO) and humanitarian organisations (MSF, Red Cross/Red Crescent).
Blockchain Technology in Land Administration and Cadastre
A new distributed database maintaining transactions is disruptive to many industries. It is producing a time stamped auditing information record. Land administration title offices maintain registries, ownerships, boundaries of private and public properties and keep records of changes to the properties as they happen.
These changes affect mortgages, restrictions, leases and right of ways. Blockchain technology has a huge potential in land administration contexts as governments privatise land registries, or want to publish trusted copy for all stakeholders without delays. Blockchain protocols in land administration offer complete historical transaction of all land title transactions, reducing dependency on central cadastral databases and can minimise the risk of fraud in data manipulation by a single user. In many parts of the world traditional registry and cadastral systems have not been sustainable in this advanced technological world. Urbanisation is at peak and land parcels are increasing day by day and discrepancies still exist whether it is in the developed or developing world.
Blockchain protocol in land registries could have many benefits like cost reduction, smart contracts, efficiency, transparency and long term investment.
Blockchain Technology for Road Tolling
Alternate fuel sources will require changes in how road user charges are calculated and collected. Deriving charges that are consistent across carbon based fuels, electric vehicles, and other alternatives (such as hydrogen fuel cells) may prove difficult.
Alongside the issue of equitable pricing is the well-known problem that continued increases in the number of road users will lead to increased traffic congestion. However, the emergence of driverless vehicles presents a possible solution to both these problems that can be implemented using the executable contracts that blockchains offer.
Currencies based on blockchain technology allow value to be held in escrow until certain conditions are met. Once these requirements are satisfied the value is distributed to the opposing party (or parties). This occurs based on how the contract is programmed into the blockchain and as such there is no need for a “middleman” (like a bank) or the fee they charge for providing this service.
Our solution is a market based system where travel on a particular road at a particular time is booked in advance (based on the origin and destination of the user). Before departing on the journey the user has certainty as to how much the journey will cost as well as its duration (they will not be inconvenienced by excessive traffic congestion).
This means all space on the road, tracked through time, is allocated. A non-urgent journey may take a less direct route in order to avoid popular roads and reduce the amount paid in road user charges. Alternatively, an urgent journey can be made via the most direct route at a higher price. Because journeys may utilise roads owned by various parties, the planning system will program the appropriate distribution of value into the executable contract. When the conditions are met (i.e. the journey is completed) the contract is executed within the blockchain and the transfer of value from the user to the road owners represents an alternative to traditional road user charges.
The CRCSI is now developing a one to two-year strategy for blockchain research in spatial technology. Seizing the early initiative with blockchain technology will be important for the spatial sector to lead activities in this rapidly growing research and development area.