FARMING BY SATELLITE
Back in 1945 when visionary Arthur C. Clarke wrote his revealing
article in the British magazine WIRELESS WORLD about his concept of
man establishing geo-stationary communications satellites over the
equator, no one, especially farmers, ever dreamed that one day they
would be farming via instructions from a r elative of the moon -and by moonlight!
It's coming soon to a farm near you. It's all part of the global
positioning system (GPS). GPS was developed by the U.S. Dept. of
Defense which worked for 15 years and spent $3 billion perfecting the
system. Now it is being turned to civilian use by companies as small
as Minute Man, a California trucking company that is now dispatching
trucks in half the time previously required, to those as large as the
Sony Corporation (which released five innovations a day during 1991)
who hope to convert GPS potential into another irresistible product.
Northwest Airlines, another wide-awake company, saw new opportunities
laying dormant within GPS. If GPS can tell you where you are, when
you are and where everyone else is, then wouldn't that allow airplanes to take off and land quicker, fly closer, yet with added
safety and reduce fuel costs? Every airline could pay for such a
system in a year and render commercial and private planes safer and
GPS may permit geologists to monitor earthquake precursors ... those
small, advanced warnings announcing that a big one is coming. Technically, they could tell you, while in your car in a strange city,
where the closest banking machine is that would handle a cash
transfer from your account. Or where that building is located that
you can't find right now.
Operating high above at an altitude almost half the diameter of the
earth (11,000 miles) is a necklace of satellites run by the Defense
Department's Navstar Global Positioning System ... a system that
proved itself during the Gulf War when soldiers knew within inches
exactly where they were in a trackless, landmark free desert.
These satellites contain small atomic clocks that broadcast time,
data and other information and tell a computerized receiver exactly
where they are and where they are going. Earthbound receivers match
their clocks with the satellites and tell, within minute fractions of
time and space, exactly where they are by calculating the distance
between them and the satellites. Because four such satellites are
within line-of-sight range at any one moment, present accuracy is
within 35 feet (16 metres). If they can compare to another stationary
land-based receiver, the accuracy moves down to inches (centimetres).
Think this won't sell? $100 million have already been sold -- to
non-military users -- in 1991. Anticipated sales for 1992: US $600
Trimble Navigation, the industry leader featured in a column here a
couple of years ago, now has 13 competitors, including Sony who is
selling a unit for hikers -- so they won't get lost -- for $1,500.
And farmers? With the appropriate receiver unit on his tractor, Old
MacDonald could track its position, verify with another land unit and
calculate its location within inches. Yes, even allowing the farmer
to furrow strait accurate plough lines even at night! Savings in
spreading fertilizer and herbicides more accurately and avoiding
overlapping, could save millions a year.
The morale? Many fantastic technological developments are jumping
aboard the steam-roller of change. Those who see the possibilities
will profit -- like the farmer who maintains lower production costs
than his neighbor, because his latest system farms more efficiently.
Those who ignore such developments and continue to do things the same
old way? They likely will fall into the techno-peasant class unable
to keep up technologically, financially or socially in a rapidly
changing world. If you are not aboard the steamroller of change you
stand a good chance of becoming part of the road.
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