October 7, 2008

Massey Inventor in Full Flight With GPS Tracker

EVERY airplane can now be accurately tracked, even if there isn't any radar coverage in the area they're in.

Massey University mechatronics graduate James McCarthy has developed technology that has been turned into a product called Spidertracks.

The palm-sized unit works by picking up a global positioning systems (GPS) signal giving the plane's position, transmits it to the Iridium satellite network and beams it to servers in Australia and Wellington. From there the signal travels via the Web to the operations base. The route of the aircraft is overlaid on Google Earth maps and updates on the position of the plane appear every few minutes for as long as there is a power supply to the unit.

What makes Spidertracks different from other satellite tracking systems is that Mr Sandbrook discovered a way to integrate a GPS receiver and satellite transmitter into one unit, without the need for external antennae - which is believed to be the first time this has been done. Spidertracks is now used by helicopter, fixed wing and land-based operations in more than 26 countries.

Spidertracks was named the emerging business category winner at the Manawatu Business Awards in Palmerston North last month. Mr McCarthy and former university staff member Don Sandbrook developed the system and trialled it with Massey University's School of Aviation.

The bachelor of engineering with honours (mechatronics) is a four- year degree, offered at Massey University's Auckland, Wellington and Palmerston North campuses.

The degree covers mechanical engineering, electrical and electronic systems, robotics, computer technology, and intelligent control and aims to provide graduates with a broad, hands-on education. The course includes design projects to help graduates become competitive and confident in product innovation, and the various aspects of mechanical and electronic engineering including automation, robotics, machine intelligence, computer systems, and programming.

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