It’s no small thing to say that Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have changed the world.
From guiding smart missiles down the streets of Iraq to getting taxi drivers and your parents from point A to point B without having to think or getting lost, it has really opened up a number of opportunities for its application.
To the point now where it is essentially ubiquitous.
The same as Russia’s GLONASS, which has better coverage of northern Europe than GPS.
But just because it is everywhere, does not mean it is infallible.
One of the major problems with the system is that is jammable and that the high precision positioning network that utilises GPS alone needs a clear view of the sky with sufficient geometry.
In mining, if these satellites are blocked, then the system fails.
Problem is, this is a fairly common occurrence in open cut mines with deep pits or when vehicles are working against high walls.
With mine production and automation becoming increasingly reliant on GPS positioning, failures of this type are a serious issue.
Even more so as the mining industry moves towards greater automation and semi-autonomous vehicles, which rely heavily on GPS tracking to adjust their movements and to follow pre-set paths within the site.
Speaking to Australian Mining, Leica Geosystems Mining’s CEO Haydn Roberts explained that "there was a need for an alternative positioning system".
Following his company’s partnership with Locata, it is now providing this alternative.
“We are now offering a ground based ‘alternative positioning system’.”
Roberts described the new technology, know as the Leica Jigsaw Positioning System (Jps), as “the world’s only high precision radio positioning system that is not reliant on GPS”.
Powered by Locata, it provides a “new constellation of ground based satellites” and alternative points of reference. Working as additional points of reference, it can be used in conjunction with GPS and GLONASS, for exmaple using three GPS satellites with two LocataLites to provide a high precision position, something that is not normally possibly in deep pits – or operating completely independently from their satellite networks.
Locata’s CEO Nunzio Gambale added that “Locata, across the open pit mine area, is ensuring that Jps users have solid, operational cm-level positioning which is independent of GPS”.
How it works
In understanding Jps, you have to understand how GPS works. One of the fundamental requirements for GPS positioning is that the transmitters are synchronised.
Atomic clocks are used in all GPS to achieve this, where as GLONASS needs at least four satellites to work, using three to determine user location and the fourth to sychronise clocks of the receiver and the other three satellites.
However the LocataLites transmitters can accomplish high levels of sychronisation without using atomic clocks, Roberts explained.
Soon after being turned on, the LocataLites create an autonomous; nano-second accurate positioning network through a sychronisation process Leica has called ‘TimeLoc’, which can even operate when the LocataLites are 50 kilometres apart, or even further if attached to high powered transmit amplifiers.
"After the first box turned on carries out initial surveys, the rest around it are self configuring," he added.
By doing this, each individual LocataLite unit functionally becomes the equivalent of a GPS satellite for the HP positioning network.
The LocataLites themselves are just small boxes about the size of a notebook, and can be placed wherever they are needed around the mine site.
They can be permanently positioned or moved at will.
Roberts went on to tell Australian Mining that, as the system runs on WiFi, it is not as jammable as regular GPS, which has directly lead to one of the largest announcements for the technology.
Flying the flag
In September, Leica announced that the United States Air Force (USAF), who had actually created GPS, had approached the company to use Locata to provide the 746th Test Squadron (746TS) with increased accuracy in positioning at their White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, which covers more than 6500 square kilometers. The USAF is using Locata as GPS is known to jam, and provides inaccurate readings.
“I am excited about the potential Locata’s technology has to dramatically improve our reference system’s accuracy in a navigation warfare environment," Christopher Morin, technical director for the 746TS, said.
“Delivering completely independent high accuracy GPS style positioning when GPS is not available no trivial task – in fact many believed it was not possible,” Gamble stated.
“We are the only company in the world that is doing it.
Roberts added that this system is “providing something that no-one else can – OEM independent, GPS independent high precision positioning networks for mines and beyond”.