SPACE-AGE TECHNOLOGY IMPROVES BULLDOZER OPERATIONS

COLUMBUS, OHIO - Construction companies may soon be able to use satellite-based technology developed at Ohio State University to help save time and money when surveying and preparing building sites.

Researchers have developed software that works with the Global Positioning System (GPS) -- a U.S. navigation satellite system -- to survey construction sites and determine blade positions for bulldozers during the grading process.

The GPS, working with Ohio State software, allows construction companies to calculate the position of equipment and survey lines with pinpoint accuracy, said George Dedes, a research specialist at Ohio State's Center for Mapping.

This will cut the time needed to map and stake a construction site by 60 to 70 percent, enabling companies to cut production costs and offer lower bids on projects, Dedes said.

The system will also allow construction crews to grade a construction site within a few centimeters of the project design and could eventually be able to complete the entire grading and staking process with the touch of a few computer buttons.

"We're trying to use the GPS from the very beginning of a project to the end," he said.

At the first stages of a project, a GPS receiver is mounted to a vehicle and an operator drives the site to be leveled. Signals from the GPS are gathered by the receiver and the information collected is used to formulate a map and construction plan for the site.

Once grading has begun, the GPS monitors the progress of the bulldozers and other equipment and guides machine operators using a TV-like monitor in the vehicle's cab. GPS antennas will be mounted on the blade of the construction equipment used in grading. This would allow a computer operator to drive the equipment from a distance, Dedes said.

"The ultimate aim of this effort is to feed signals from the processor directly to the vehicle's hydraulic controls to automate the earth cutting and filling function, much as an automated navigation system in an aircraft feeds course information into the aircraft's controls," he said.

"It hasn't been determined yet at which point we will use the GPS inside the bulldozer," he said. "People will continue to do the rough grading the way they do now and GPS will be used to achieve the final grading. But if everything is well-equipped with GPS, I see no reason why any grading needs to be done manually.

"In the end, you will have a TV-like monitor, a computer and the GPS -- the design will be entered into the computer memory and the driver of the earth moving equipment or the remote operator will determine how much cutting and filling is needed to achieve the desired design."

The center began public demonstrations of this software in bulldozer operations in 1993. Researchers have been perfecting the uses of GPS and attempting to modify the system for sale on the international market.

A prototype of the system currently lists for about $90,000 to $100,000.

"The market is ready to accept a system at a cost of $30,000 or less. As the cost of the GPS receivers comes down, the cost of our system will come down," Dedes said.

He said the center is working with several GPS-manufacturing companies to develop a system that would provide only the functions needed to collect and monitor measurements, which would reduce the cost of the system.

"The reason the receivers are so expensive is because they are autonomous computers," he said. "They have a computer inside, displays, and all the communication boards and software to handle the design. But the only thing we need out of the receiver is the measurements."

Dedes said a less-expensive system with a narrower scope of operation should be ready for the market in six months to a year. Although the center is currently working with several GPS companies to develop the scaled-down system, Dedes said the center's goal is to remain independent of the manufacturers, allowing the center to use market competition to keep the cost of the GPS system within an acceptable market price.

Future plans for this GPS system include integrating it with an Inertial Navigation System, currently used in airplanes, which would allow the GPS to operate in areas with obstructions, such as trees and tall buildings, which interfere with the GPS signals.

Ohio State's Center for Mapping is one of 11 research and development groups in the United States funded by NASA to promote the commercialization of space. The development of the GPS system and its applications in the construction industry is in line with the NASA charge for the center, Dedes said.

"This use of space technology for specific applications is in keeping with the center's objective to promote the commercialization of space by developing innovative commercial products for the mapping, remote sensing, and geographic information system communities," he said.

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Contact: George Dedes, (614) 292-3409

Written by Kelli Whitlock, (614) 292-9475