Some of us use them to stalk our friends, others to find a restaurant and some use them as an excuse to disregard the evidence of their eyes and drive blindly into reservoirs, but, in one way or another, we all make use of satellite navigation.
Since the dawn of the sat nav era in the early 1990s, we have been reliant upon the American’s to provide our little magical boxes with the satellites it needs to guide us where we want to go. In fact so reliant are we on the American system that the term GPS has become as synonymous with sat nav as the Hoover is to vacuuming and the Sinclair C5 is to daft ideas.
As Europeans (and Brits in particular) we don’t like to be too reliant on any service provided by one of our former colonies, so plans are afoot to wean our devices away from the American system and replace it with a new European system – Galileo.
When it’s complete (some time around 2020) the Galileo satellite navigation system will address a major problem with our reliance upon the American GPS and, to some extent, the Russian GLONASS system – if they go down (or are switched off) Europe will find itself sent back to the navigational hinterlands.
Not that it has been a smooth road for Galileo. It is currently running about a decade behind schedule and has thrown away its original billion pound budget and replaced it with one running into the multi-billions. But its builders – the EC and the European Space Agency – maintain that the expenditure will be dwarfed by Galileo’s economic benefits.
Aside from getting you and your Ford Focus from A to B, sat nav is used in many less obvious ways – banks use it to stamp global financial transactions and telecommunications and computing networks are synchronised by the atomic clocks at the heart of each navigation satellite.
Despite this, there are those that feel that we have yet to scratch the surface on sav nav’s potential applications. Yesterday, space and technology leaders across Europe issued a call for designers, engineers and members of the public to help design the sat nav-exploiting technologies of the future.
The British end of the European Satellite Navigation Competition is organised by the University of Nottingham and sponsored by the UK Space Agency and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (among others). The competition is open to anyone who can come up with an app, device or other idea that can exploit satellite navigation.
They are offering a £10,000 prize fund to develop the winning scheme into a product and a business.
Find out more at www.ukesnc.com.