Europe’s project to develop an independent global navigation satellite system (GNSS) could translate into €50bn of business for the road traffic industry. It holds the potential to benefit goods transporters, ground-based emergency services and the everyday road-user. It will provide a host of technologies that include detection services for road charging firms to fleet monitoring for haulage companies.

Galileo is the European Commission (EC)’s €3.4bn mission to build a civilian-controlled GNSS that will end today’s reliance on the US GPS system and Russia’s GLONASS signals. When it is complete in 2013 it will consist of more than 20 satellites spread evenly around three orbital planes. It is set to benefit businesses in the telecoms, transport and energy sectors.

At a time of increasing economic uncertainty the EC has included the project within its ‘investing in innovations’ strategy in the hope of sparking returns for downstream businesses. EC director of maritime transport, Galileo and intelligent transport systems Fortis Karamitos says that the procurement stage of the programme is now fully underway as it has received financial and political backing.

"In the current economic climate this is very important to Europe. The EC is fully behind the project," says Karamitos.

Galileo and European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) – the pre-Galileo system already installed and due to be fully operational in April – are a response to the growing importance of satellite signals. The military operators of the US and Russian systems up and running today cannot guarantee the EU an uninterrupted service, jeopardising the efficiency of road, aerospace and maritime transport systems.

Galileo is aimed at fulfilling four principle services. The "open service" will provide a combination of open signals free of charge, the "safety of life service" promises the transport community a guaranteed enhanced performance, the "commercial service" gives paying users increased accuracy and finally the public regulated service – providing positioning and timing to specific clients.

“It holds the potential to benefit goods transporters, ground-based emergency services and the everyday road-user.”

In addition, it will support search and rescue services and represent Europe’s contribution to the international COSPAS-SARSAT co-operative effort on humanitarian search.

Practical uses for far-out technology

EC head of intelligent transport systems Edgar Thieleman says: "We are working to develop a series of actions to support the road industry."

Thieleman predicts an increase in road-user charging schemes, stemming from top-down climate change policy initiatives in the EU, which will directly benefit from a civilian-controlled, open access GNSS.

"There is a clear way in the EU that infrastructure charging won’t just be on small, specific parts of the road network but will comprise of much more than a few subsections," he says. Thieleman points to the widespread charging system already established in Germany as an example of how far-reaching pay-as-you-go systems can be a success.

Not only will improved GNSS help in the management of road-user charging schemes, it will also speed up the toll collection for the road-user. Feeding these cost savings on to the firms and the passengers should prove a driver in GNSS take-up.

“The European GNSS programme triggers huge economic and social benefits both upstream and downstream.”

A growing area of potential is in-car satellite navigation systems. There were 600 million vehicles on the road in 2004, of these 160,000 were in the EU. LEK Consulting managing director Giovanni Calia, who has been employed by the EC to assess Galileo’s market potential, estimates that in 2006, 2.5 million cars in the European community had an in-car navigation system and just two years later this figure had exploded to more than 15 million.

Calia says that by 2020 more than 50% of cars will be fitted with satellite navigation and of those that don’t come with it installed, 80% will be post-fitted.

"The European GNSS programme triggers huge economic and social benefits both upstream and downstream," he says. However, a source from another consultancy firm who does not wish to be named says there are "grey areas" in the market potential figures which need to be rectified.

In addition, during December 2008 the commission decided to make Galileo’s effectiveness for intelligent transport systems a priority and is also looking at how safety critical applications – known as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems – can be launched. Along with providing drivers with assistance in route mapping, this will also be able to produce data such as the driver’s relative position to lane boundaries.

Project reaches maximum horsepower

It seems that Galileo has overcome previous funding issues and is now progressing full steam ahead.

"The time to build a successful European GNSS industry is now," says Calia. Partner firms that will receive funding for related R&D work will be announced in February, EGNOS’s operator will be formalised by April and two test-bed satellites are already established.

In addition, the European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA) is also working on a virtual library. This will appear in full on the GSA website and details where the funding has been allocated since the project started.

"We think the high visibility of the specific use of public funds will lead to better quality results," says GSA executive director Pedro Pedreira.

By ensuring Galileo technology is fully interoperable with the international systems already in use, a greater accuracy and reliability will be granted to GNSS users from 2013 onwards. With real-time, high-speed data feeds and with a promise that they will be at affordable prices – if not free – space technology well may provide a much needed boost to service providers in the road industry.