GPS in Construction and AgricultureJuly 2, 2015 - By now The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a household name. GPS receivers are integrated into everyday devices: cars, phones, watches, even golf balls. Originally developed for military purposes, the United States government created and maintains the system and also makes it freely accessible to anyone with a GPS receiver. With the prevalence of the GPS new applications arose, such as the ability to automate machinery, even to be driverless. 


GPS enabled tractors, earth movers, excavators and other equipment are all part of a shift to increase automation. Combining GPS and automation software, operators can monitor multiple machines from a remote location.In a driverless scenario, operators can command machines to perform tasks like accelerating, braking, steering and also have the ability to implement sensors to detect obstacles.

Due to refraction of the signal when travelling from the satellite to the unit, normal GPS setups are able to get within 10-20 meter accuracy. To improve accuracy, base stations can be located on a job site mounted with known coordinates. Because the base station’s coordinates are fixed, a process called Real Time Kinematics can correct any errors from refraction and properly transmit to the GPS devices with 10-30mm accuracy. Yes….millimeters. Modern automated grade control systems boast accuracy measured in millimeters, and it’s all GPS enabled.

Carrying a hefty price tag (often in excess of $50,000 per machine) these systems might be cost prohibitive to fit onto old equipment but there can be substantial benefits. In a 2013 Australian report it stated that with GPS, fuel consumption was down 25%, grader and excavator passes were reduced by 70%, survey costs we’re down 30%. With less run-time on equipment there is far less wear and tear on the machines. Another benefit of GPS fitted equipment is that these machines are a lot more traceable and therefore more secure when left on job sites. With construction theft being a $1 billion dollar annual industry there’s one more reason to retrofit existing equipment with new technology.

Most new equipment comes “plumbed” for modern GPS aftermarket equipment, and in some cases OEMs have taken to creating proprietary GPS machine/grade control systems options by partnering with the aftermarket alternatives. Through a lengthy partnership, Caterpillar® and Trimble have worked together to seamlessly integrate their systems and bring a comprehensive unified fleet solution to contractors. Along with this partnership, Trimble will manage a new dealer distribution channel, SITECH, which will serve as the outlet for aftermarket products and services. The goal is to have Caterpillar dealers form strategic relationships with SITECH dealers, who will then provide site solutions to customers.

Since most of these components are removable, many companies will remove these accessories before selling a piece of equipment so they can use them on other machines. In the case of secured creditor auctions or bankruptcy auctions, machines can be sold with the systems intact or removed and sold separately similar to any other accessory in the sale.