Reliable, consistent positioning accuracy has always driven new product development in the survey and mapping sector of the GPS/GNSS market. It’s remarkable how quickly the provided accuracy in successive new survey products over the years has increased the required accuracy from users and customers in the field, and consequently the desired accuracy in a feedback loop to the product developers.
In other words, the degree of required accuracy has risen steadily over the three and a half decades since GPS was born. “Accuracy is addictive.” Somebody said that in the second decade of GPS development, that is, sometime in the 1990s. This statement continues to hold true, as true for this industry as Moore’s Law does for computer technology as a whole.
Moore’s Law states that overall processing power for computers will double every two years; as a corollary or an extension, the size of said computers gets cut in half every two years, and the cost (sometimes) also comes down by 50 percent. Moore’s Law in action in the GPS/GNSS industry has driven the product developments that we have consistently seen for many years.
We have seen the gradual tightening of accuracy requirements across all sectors of the positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) community with each passing year and with each new State of the Industry Report. This is the first time we have seen it cross the 1-centimeter line. Not in capability; sub-centimeter capability has been available for some time. But now that level of performance is the minimum acceptable “good enough” for more respondents in the survey and high-precision sector than any lesser degree of accuracy; in fact, greater than all other ranges combined.
To put this into measurable, statistical form, GPS World has just released its fourth annual “State of the GNSS Industry Report.” In the years that we have conducted the survey, the accuracy required for the majority of survey applications has steadily come down. No surprises here.
In 2013, those who said that the majority of this market sector needed accuracy of better than a centimeter amounted to only 8 percent of total respondents.
In 2014, this group rose dramatically to 35 percent, while close to a majority, or 47 percent, held that a range of 1 to 5 centimeters was “good enough.”
Now, in this year of 2015, the majority has shifted clearly to the side of 1 centimeter or better as the new standard of required precision; 51.25 percent held this view. From 8 percent to more than half in just two years — that’s some change!
Fewer people believe that a survey done completely on a computer and driven by remote-sensor data will occur in less than five years. Counter to last year’s expectations, most now think it will take longer than five years to come about.
Those who are addicted to 1-centimeter accuracy form the new majority. Their preferences and their behaviors will rule the positioning world, not just in survey, but across all sectors supplied by GNSS and increasingly by a broad range of PNT technologies: defense, transportation, UAVs, machine control, precision agriculture, and much more. These other sectors will presumably answer likewise — “1 centimeter accuracy, that’s what I need!” in coming years, following the trail blazed by the you high-precision surveying pioneers.
We have crossed the Rubicon. Unlike other obsessive behaviors, there is no going back in our case. This path is a one-way road to to the promised land of always-on, always-true, near-perfect provision of positioning.