Australia needs to change its GPS because the country can’t keep still

The Australian landmass isn’t in the same place it was a decade ago. Thanks to plate tectonics, the country-slash-continent is drifting northwards at a rate of roughly seven centimetres a year.

You’d probably still be able to find Australia if you flew over there – it’s quite a big place, after all. But for specific GPS co-ordinates, this movement is causing trouble. As Dan Jaksa from Geoscience Australia told ABC, the country’s GPS co-ordinates are off by more than 1.5 metres.

In a world increasingly integrated with GPS technology, from smartphone apps to driverless cars, being precise with location is crucial. Playing Pokémon Go with a slightly skewed map might not be so bad, but you don’t want your autonomous vehicle to think a road is 1.5 metres to the left of where it actually is.

To solve the problem, Jaksa is working with a team of government scientists to update Australia’s global positioning, moving to a system known as “Geocentric Datum Australia 2017”. The last time a change had to be made was in 1994, a good few years before the explosion of personal GPS devices.

“The cost of not doing this outweighs the cost of doing it,” Jaksa said, noting that a rejigged sense of global positioning wouldn’t affect ownership of property: “Unfortunately you don’t own any of the property next door,” he told ABC.

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