Government announces $2 million investment in life-saving GPS technology for emergency services

Rescue helicopter pilots are describing it as a "game changer". The government today announced a $2 million investment in life-saving GPS technology that will provide emergency services with improved accuracy.

Reaching patients in bad weather and wild terrain can be a slow and treacherous task for rescue helicopter crews - but now technology is coming to their rescue. 

However, despite the technology being a decade old, New Zealand will still have to wait another four years to use it.

"It's a gamer changer for us, it's probably the biggest thing to happen to us since GPS itself, to have this level of accuracy," pilot Rob Arrowsmith told Newshub.

Arrowsmith estimates that the improved accuracy could save hundreds of lives a year in New Zealand.

GPS currently provides information accurate to about 10 metres. The new system, SBAS, can be as precise as 10 centimetres, meaning faster and safer helicopter rescues are on the horizon.

"It means the whole process of getting the patient treated and to hospital is streamlined," says Arrowsmith.

The technology has been used overseas in Europe and North America for a decade. However, trialling it here in New Zealand only started two years ago, and it won't be available for use until 2023.

"It's a safety system, so it's got to be 100 percent accurate, and that's why it's taking the time that it will," says Minister for Land Information, Eugenie Sage.

When the technology is finally in action, its advantages will stretch far beyond emergency services.

"It'll be good for simple things like Uber drivers knowing what side of the road to pick you up on, drones, driverless cars," says Sage.

The technology could reduce collisions on the driver-less roads of the future, and also reduce delays in the sky with fewer cancelled flights in bad weather.

"There's big economic spinoffs when flights are cancelled and delayed that has a flow on effect right across the country," Transport Minister Phil Twyford told Newshub.

In total, the system is estimated to be worth close to $1.5 billion in economic benefits.

Something to look forward to - in 2023.


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