A team of state surveyors is in Douglas County this week as part of a massive nationwide surveying effort that will have implications for self-driving cars, pipeline construction and many other projects.
They are working at the request of the National Geodetic Survey to improve the accuracy of its mapping coordinates by 2022. Its official horizontal and vertical coordinates, established in the 1980s, are not accurate; one system is off by 2.2 meters (roughly 7 feet).
That might not seem like much, but it can create massive headaches in a variety of areas, such as building highways and pipelines, and programming driver-assisted and self-driving cars, said Dave Zenk, a regional advisor for the National Geodetic Survey.
"A small mistake can put you 2.2 meters off, but guess where that is? It's the other lane," he said.
The future of helping people know exactly where they are, called positioning, is through satellite systems such as the Global Positioning System, or GPS, the National Geodetic Survey said in a 2010 paper, "Improving the National Spatial Reference System." The old system is not just inaccurate, but the confusion it creates is still sometimes built into software.
Replacing the old system is the best approach, "rather than risk life and property to such misunderstandings," the national office said.
Surveyors with the Minnesota Department of Transportation are checking about 1,800 spots in Minnesota for the National Geodetic Survey, said John Barke, a geodetics supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Office of Land Management.
The new coordinate system will depend on the Global Positioning System, better known as GPS, and other satellite systems.