CQUni among first to join trial of new satellite positioning technology

Published:08 November 2017

CQUni Associate Professor Mark Trotter shows off a prototype of an ear tag able to be used for satellite tracking of cattle. He is flanked by Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry and Senator Matt Canavan. The ear tag prototype is a joint project of CQUni's School of Engineering and Technology and its Institute for Future Farming Systems.

CQUniversity is leading a project to test how improved satellite positioning technology can help cattle and sheep farmers lower costs and boost the amount of beef, lamb, wool and milk they produce.

The University this week hosted Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan as he launched an industry trial of a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) for the Australasian region.

The trial is testing three new technologies* and is being funded with $12 million from the Australian Government and a further $2 million from the New Zealand Government.

CQUniversity is one of the first organisations to join the trial by testing how the improved satellite positioning technology can boost cattle and sheep farm outputs across the agricultural industry.

Improved positioning accuracy and integrity will potentially benefit a wide range of other industries, including mining, transport, construction and utilities.

The precise tracking of livestock can be used for early disease detection, more efficient breeding programs, and even 'virtual fencing' which allows graziers to remotely manage the location of livestock in the paddock.

With virtual fencing (VF), animals wear a collar emitting audio cues (usually a simple beep) to tell them where they can and can’t go.

GPS is used to locate the animal and set the virtual fence, to prescribe where a cow is allowed to graze. The animal learns to respond to the audio signals through a mild electrical stimulus. Graziers will use VF to reduce over-grazing, to keep animals out of riverbank zones, and even to automatically muster their livestock.

Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry said the CQUni project would receive up to $180 000 in funding from the Australian and NZ governments, with project partners contributing an additional $105 000.

Minister Canavan said there was no better place to launch the SBAS trial than Rockhampton, as CQUniversity was one of the first industry participants to sign on.

“In coming months, further contracts are expected to be signed covering more than 30 industry-based projects across 10 sectors examining real-world applications of three new satellite positioning technologies.

“We know that working closely with industries like agriculture is the key to understanding what Australia can gain from investing in technologies that may improve positioning accuracy from the current five to 10 metres down to less than 10 centimetres.

“As part of the trial, a number of the projects will be looking at how improvements in positioning can be used to increase production and lower costs for farmers.

“For example, one of the projects will be examining the potential of ‘fenceless farming’ for strip grazing, while another will be looking at how crop health can be improved through more precise irrigation, fertiliser use and pest control.”

Minister Canavan said the new technologies basically augmented and corrected the positioning signals already transmitted to Australia by constellations of international satellites like the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS).

“All up, three signals will be uplinked to a geostationary communications satellite out of Lockheed Martin’s station at Uralla in the New England region of New South Wales.

“In September, a second generation SBAS (SBAS-2) signal was switched on. It is the first time anywhere in the world that SBAS-2 signals have been transmitted. Australia is also the first country in the world to trial Precise Point Positioning corrections integrated into an SBAS service.”

* The CQUniversity project will be utilising first-generation SBAS technology but, in all, three SBAS technologies are being trialled: first-generation SBAS, second-generation SBAS and Precise Point Positioning. The technologies were turned on in June 2017, September 2017 and October 2017 respectively. First-generation SBAS technology improves positioning accuracy to within half a metre. The experimental Precise Point Positioning capability provides positioning accuracies of 10 centimetres. It is the first time anywhere in the world that second-generation SBAS signals have been transmitted. Australia is also the first country in the world to trial Precise Point Positioning corrections integrated into an SBAS service. The new technologies augment and correct the positioning signals already transmitted to Australia by the United States' Global Positioning System (GPS) and the European Galileo system, improving accuracy, integrity, continuity and availability.

** The SBAS trial is being managed by Geoscience Australia in partnership with the global technology companies GMV, Inmarsat and Lockheed Martin. The Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI) is managing the industry projects which will trial, evaluate and report on the benefits and applications relevant to their business and sector. The projects range across 10 industry sectors including agriculture, aviation, construction, consumer, maritime, rail, road, resources, spatial and utilities. For more information about the SBAS trial, visit the Geoscience Australia website.