Australia's Official Coordinates Are Being Moved To Compensate For Tectonic Drift

Given that Australia is large enough to be classified as a continent, the fact that it’s moving northwards by 7cm a year might sound pretty inconsequential.

Well, not if you’re a passenger in a driverless car.

The autonomous automobiles rely on a combination of local mapping and global satellite navigation for direction. A mismatch between the coordinates of the two systems could represent the difference between the road and a swamp full of crocs.

Since 1994, Australia’s lines of longitude and latitude have been fixed to the continent, rather than its position relative to the surface of the Earth. But over the last 22 years, the country has drifted northwards by about 1.5 metres.

Now, the Geocentric Datum of Australia is set to update the country’s coordinates, relocating it northwards by 1.8 metres. The overcorrection will take place at the start of the new year and give officials until 2020 to set up a new system that will automatically monitor changes.

Doug Armand via Getty Images

Dan Jaksa of Geoscience Australia told the BBC: “If you want to start using driverless cars, accurate map information is fundamental.

“We have tractors in Australia starting to go around farms without a driver, and if the information about the farm doesn’t line up with the co-ordinates coming out of the navigation system there will be problems.”

Jaksa added that the new system could be used by every country in the world once it is rolled out.

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