Democratization of Positioning: Are smartphones and tablets accelerating 3D machine control and positioning adoption?

I believe the answer is yes. Smartphone and tablet technology, like those found in Apple’s iPhone and iPad as well as Samsung’s Galaxy S III and Galaxy Tab, are serving as catalysts, accelerating positioning adoption. There are several reasons why I think these consumer “positioning” products are change-agents.

The method through which a market adopts technology is largely a predictable model. But, the acceleration of adoption can be affected by change-agents.That is what change-agents do. These change-agents serve to communicate to and comfort an early majority who then follow those “Early Adopters”. Another way of saying this is that when technology is new, its more difficult to understand and, thus perceive its benefits. As technology becomes more and more visible, so does the confidence of prospective buyers. You have likely seen a chart similar to Fig 1. The chart is inspired by the “Diffusion of Innovations” popularized in a book of the same name by Everett Rogers in 1962. Diffusion of Innovations is a theory that seeks to explain how, why and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures.

3D machine control and positioning adoption varies from region to region and application to application but popular consensus places the average adoption around 10-12%. If true, that puts machine control technology in the "Early Adopters” category. See Fig 1. The very psychology of innovators and early adopters differs from those who purchase later in the technology adoption cycle but that is a topic for a different discussion.

Smartphones and tablets are, in addition to being powerful and convenient communication computers, also considered consumer positioning devices. The basic principles of positioning are the same whether they are applied to you an I using a smartphone or to an operator at a construction site using a dozer. Thus, awareness of what a positioning solution can offer has been greatly increased, creating wider general understanding and market acceptance. The consumer market for smartphones has accelerated the creation of a wider, more educated-plus raised feature expectations for professional products. For example, “My $500.00 smartphone does “x”, why can’t your $50,000.00 3D machine control system?” It’s a tough audience.

Lets discuss a few of the components shared by the consumer and professional positioning markets. See Fig 2.

Similar components include:

  1. GPS (GNSS) position - x,y,z georeference (GNSS receiver)
  2. Pitch - lateral axis sometimes referred to as tilt (Axial Sensor)
  3. Roll - longitudinal axis of the device or machine sometimes referred to as mainfall or long slope (Axial Sensor)
  4. Yaw or Heading of the device or machine (GNSS heading, IMU or Axial Sensor)
  5. Telematics - communicating the data in some way that adds value to the overall solution. This includes productivity analysis, reporting, historical playback and remote monitoring assisting in software updates and technical support.

Site connectivity and asset tracking have similar features shared between the consumer and professional markets. See Fig 3. Stalqer, Find my Friends and Find My iPhone are consumer applications not unlike the basic offerings of more robust site management packages. Even cellular providers such as AT&T(6) and Verizon(5) are offering asset management software raising the value proposition of their smartphones.

In Summary
Technology consumption is spreading faster and faster every day. It took 12 years to reach 50 million laptops, 7 years to reach 50 million smartphones and now only 2 years to reach 50 million tablets.

The old school philosophy where the big devour the small is giving way to the fast feast on the slow and lighter is more efficient than heavier. Globalization and economic woes nurture faster acceleration of positioning technology. In time, this relentless march of technology will bury 3D systems deep into the machines that now wear them like an overcoat. Until that time comes, change agents such as consumer positioning technology will continue to prepare and train the next generation of system engineers and machine operators. Give that kid an iPad.

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  1. Technology Adoption Lifecycle - Wikipedia-
  2. Diffusion of Innovations - Stanford Strategic Marketing -
  3. Diffusion of Innovations, 5th Edition by Everett M. Rogers -
  4. Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to the Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey A. Moore -
  5. Verizon Wireless Asset Management -
  6. AT&T Asset Management -

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  4. The Faces of Machine Control - Different Perspectives by Joe Sass -
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