Q&A with Nick Brown

By on 2 September, 2019

He’s been described as a rock star of geodesy, and he’s hosting a webinar series to walk through a series of significant upgrades to core Australian geodetic products. We sat down with Geoscience Australia’s Nick Brown to find out what the series is all about.

Nick, could you summarise the purpose of the Australian Geospatial Reference System webinar series that you’re running?

The main objective is to raise awareness and reduce fear about the upgrades being made to the Australian Geospatial Reference System. This includes a new static datum – Geocentric Datum of Australia 2020, the introduction of a time dependent reference frame – Australian Terrestrial Reference Frame and the new Australian Vertical Working Surface. These new elements of the Australian Geospatial Reference System are needed because within about three years, the Positioning Australia program will provide 10 cm or better accurate positions in mobile phones. The datums we had been using in Australia like GDA94 are not accurate to 10 cm, so users would be asking: ‘is the error in the data, or my datum?’

Australian Geospatial Reference System – can you explain what this is?

The Australian Geospatial Reference System is the collection of:

  • datums (e.g. Geocentric Datum of Australia 2020, Australian Height Datum), reference frames (e.g. Australian Terrestrial Reference Frame) and working surfaces (e.g. Australian Vertical Working Surface) used to define latitude, longitude, height, orientation and gravity throughout Australia;
  • infrastructure, including a national network of Global Navigation Satellite System, Continuously Operating Reference Stations and survey marks to provide an authoritative and accurate network in support of positioning applications;
  • models describing dynamic, geophysical processes that affect spatial measurements; and
  • standards to ensure positioning information is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (e.g. ISO / OGC / GeodesyML).

The components of the Australian Geospatial Reference System.

The Australian Geospatial Reference System is managed by the Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mappings’ Permanent Committee on Geodesy.

How did the first webinar go, and what was covered?

I think it went really well, apart from the abuse I copped for being an Essendon supporter.

The first webinar largely covered the ‘why’ and the ‘what’, that is, why does the Australian Geospatial Reference System need to be upgraded and what is being done. It was a high level summary of the work being done so [I hope] people can understand the bigger picture. A change to one datum, or the improvement in one piece of infrastructure is not enough to improve precise positioning in Australia. We need to upgrade a range of elements of the Australian Geospatial Reference System at the same time.

If you missed the first one, you can watch it on the ICSM website at https://www.icsm.gov.au/webinar-series-australian-geospatial-reference-system

We’re starting to see that an understanding of geodesy and datum-related matters is becoming critical to a whole new set of people, as the benefits of precise positioning are being understood by new industries. What are some of the key applications in the Australian context?

There is rapid growth of GNSS chipset sales in new and emerging markets like location based services (e.g. mobile phones), intelligent transport, agriculture and ‘Internet of Things’ devices. This is only going to accelerate when Geoscience Australia delivers the Positioning Australia program which will provide 10 cm accurate and reliable position for all Australians by 2023-24. This is a significant improvement from the 5-10 m accuracy you can currently achieve using GNSS enabled devices.

With that in mind, who might benefit from tuning into the series that might differ from a core audience of say, three years ago?

I would like to think we can generate greater interest from software developers who see an opportunity to combine the benefits of precise positioning, navigation or timing with other technology. Pokemon Go is a great example of how you can ‘gamify’ positioning technology. This is just one example of a company who has done very well from having a GPS chip in a mobile devices. We want to encourage more of that. I am keen to see what innovative ideas people come up with.

What are some of the key issues that might affect people’s day-to-day professional practice in the next year or two that you’ll be covering in the series?

As you want to measure something with greater accuracy, you need to consider more things. For example, when attempting to measure something at the millimetre level compared to the centimetre level, geodesists need more stable site foundations, more expensive receivers, geodetic style antennas, better atmospheric models etc. The same principle applies to the spatial industry at the moment. Spatial professionals are the bridge between complexities of geodesy and user requirements. Many users will have precise positioning technology in their hand but it will be up to the spatial industry to deliver data to the user which is aligned with the user’s position and in the user’s datum.

Could you give a summary what attendees can expect to be covered in the next three webinars?

The next three webinars will go into more details about 1) GDA2020, 2) ATRF and 3) the Ups and Downs of height datums in Australia.

To sign up – please visit https://sssi.org.au/events-awards/events/sssi-yp-icsm-gda2020-webinar-series

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Go the Bombers!

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