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Australia Is 1.5 Metres Away From Where You Think It Is

You're wrong, and it's affecting self-driving cars.

29/07/2016 8:26 AM AEST | Updated 29/07/2016 10:33 AM AEST
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1.5m may not sound a lot, but it's a massive difference in a self-driving car.

Try and find where you are on a map right now; Google Maps, Apple Maps, whatever you like. Found where you think you are?

Well, you're wrong. Where you actually are right now is about 1.5 metres from where you think you are, and scientists are scrambling to fix the maps because of how it will affect driving and self-driving or driverless cars.

Online maps and other GPS (global positioning system) data uses latitude and longitude coordinates to locate certain points. But, as the tectonic plates of the Earth shift and move, those latitude and longitude coordinates become ever so slightly incorrect each year (we're talking by a matter of centimetres) but they add up over time.

Australia's current system, called the Geocentric Datum of Australia, was last updated more than 20 years ago, in 1994. Over that time, experts say that Australia has actually moved 1.5 metres from where the maps say we are. Geoscience Australia is now working on a new system to put Australia in the right spot.

Martin Barraud
See this map of Australia? Pick it up and move it about 1.5 metres

"We have points on Australia that are fixed to Australia and the lines of latitude and longitude move with those points," Dan Jaksa, of Geoscience Australia, told the ABC.

"The lines are fixed to the continent but as time goes by, that position compared to a GPS position can create a difference, so every so often we need to change that."

The new data will be published next year, which is important with the rise of driverless cars. Such vehicles use GPS data to navigate -- and if the GPS data is wrong, that's not exactly supporting road safety.

"At the moment they [smart devices] have to adjust everything because the information you have doesn't line up with the [physical] position," Jaksa told the ABC.

"With the applications that are coming in intelligent transport systems — like driverless cars — if you're 1.5m out then you're in another lane. So the map information those systems use need to be coincident with the [navigation] system they're using which is GPS."

"Quite frankly, we need to update the datum if they're going to become a reality."

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