The Value of Location Tech

This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series xyHt in print February 2016

The term “location tech” has been around for a long time, but recently it seems to have been co-opted by Silicon Valley and the makers of consumer technologies. This is epitomized by the most prevalent tech that has rudimentary but ubiquitous location capability: phones. It’s estimated that as many as 65% of cellphone apps access location capabilities, and there are 3+ billion such phones.

“Location tech” has become shorthand for anything with the capability of determining the position and orientation of an object or person in a room, a building, or the globe. It’s like the general populace has suddenly “discovered” location, but for practitioners and professionals like surveyors, this all seems like hype. So, what does this location tech boom offer to our professions?

The heightened awareness of the value of location is on the minds of the public, but we have to remind them that the wonders of location go far beyond that magic communicator in their pocket, and it might be good to remind ourselves first. To try to put the whole subject of “location tech” into context for our readers—high-precision spatial professionals—we’ve dedicated content in this issue to location tech, and you’ll see content regularly on the subject in future issues.

In “Indoor Positioning,” Ernest Yap gives an overview of indoor location technologies, and we’ve included a two-page pullout infographic showing the more common end-use sectors for indoor and outdoor location tech, examples of types of work, key technologies employed, and respective precision categories. If this poster looks busy and complex, that befits the subject of location tech. 

Economic value may be harder to convey. Some of the reasons why it’s difficult to put hard numbers on the value of location tech and GNSS include the rapidity of adoption and that such devices are being integrated with other rapidly evolving technologies. There is also “outcome bias”: successful outcomes lead to overlooking the processes that got you there (think again about that smartphone in your pocket).

To get a better idea of value, we spoke with economist and policy expert Irv Leveson, known for studies he’s conducted for NOAA-NGS on the economic impact of programs like Height Modernization and GRAV-D. We asked about one of the most widely used location technologies, GNSS.

“The economic value of GNSS for the U.S. could easily be over $100B annually,” said Leveson, who added, “it might be substantially more.” Safety and environmental benefits also are large, he noted.  We asked about the three top current uses generating benefits: “Transportation is the largest, especially vehicle navigation. That’s followed by agriculture, and the third is surveying. That’s not just surveying alone, but in any industry where you would make surveying measurements,” for example, construction.

What uses will rise in value in coming years? Leveson notes that consumer tech will rise most rapidly, but also construction automation. Read our full interview of Leveson online this month. Also, see more economic value info before the location tech infographic.

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