Editorial | GPS offers lessons for the infrastructure of tomorrow

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With the adoption by the Senate of the bipartite agreement Law on investment in infrastructure and employment Last month, lawmakers were set to provide long-awaited funding to modernize our country’s infrastructure. These investments, which include funding for roads and bridges, as well as broadband, electric vehicles, and mass transit, are badly needed and will provide a solid foundation for growing the U.S. economy and modernizing our nation’s infrastructure. .

Many have noticed that this infrastructure package is very different from those offered in past decades. This is for good reason. Today’s transportation, agriculture and construction, for example, are all linked by one common underlying characteristic: the use of advanced technology that improves efficiency and sustainability. The next iteration of smart infrastructure will also be technology-driven – including geospatial data, analytics and data, IoT technology, and AI – and it is imperative that the government leads investments in these critical technologies. .

The Global Positioning System (GPS) represents the epitome of smart government investment. Originally developed to support U.S. military operations, GPS has become one of the most widely used technologies of our time, affecting nearly every aspect of society’s infrastructure, from aviation and rail, to broadband wireless and to the power grid. In fact, GPS technology will play a leading role in the deployment of the infrastructure outlined in the legislative package, including location mapping for electric vehicle (EV) chargers, enabling safer and more efficient operation of vehicles from construction and providing the precise timing needed to bring wireless broadband to unserved and underserved communities, to name a few.

Although the GPS system is publicly funded (about $ 1.7 billion per year), it provides a platform that has unleashed the creativity of the private sector, resulting in economic benefits estimated at $ 1 billion per day. for the US economy. Today, some of the most innovative uses of GPS are those that work with other emerging technologies, thus enabling smarter and more efficient functionality.

Take precision farming, for example, which for the past two decades has used GPS data to enable farmers to map their fields and guide their equipment more precisely, leading to more efficient food production and improved efficiency. greater environmental sustainability. Now, along with improvements in wireless broadband, AI and cloud computing, precision agriculture is entering the next phase of innovation. GPS-guided tractors and combines with centimeter accuracy have become more sophisticated by analyzing data collected in the field and creating soil / yield mapping systems that save farmers time and money. Variable Rate Technology (VRT) systems can use data from sensors or GPS to vary the application of seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides based on historical data, reducing wastage of critical inputs. Irrigation is also improving with systems that map fields and curved lines so that rainwater can be directed to natural irrigation, reducing water use by four percent, with the potential to reduce 21 percent more water consumption thanks to greater adoption.

Another area of ​​infrastructure that has benefited greatly from accurate, reliable and resilient GPS is the construction of roads, bridges and buildings. The tedious and time-consuming process of collecting measurements for planning, design and construction, used for generations, is increasingly being replaced by digital construction technologies, including GPS, which increase machine productivity, reduce costs. rework and can reduce project delivery costs by up to 30 percent. Recognizing these benefits, the infrastructure package adopted by the Senate provides $ 20 million to accelerate the implementation and deployment of advanced digital construction management systems. GPSIA commends Congress leaders for adopting this provision, which demonstrates what is possible when we “step up” the use of existing technology and focus on building the infrastructure of tomorrow.

As Congress examines additional investment opportunities, including the reconciliation process and upcoming appropriation bills, the GPSIA further encourages those forward-thinking investments – investments in tomorrow’s technologies – that will be imperative to create a more efficient and sustainable society for years to come.


David Grossman is executive director of the GPS Innovation Alliance.


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