The European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA) has awarded its European Satellite Navigation Competition Special Topic Prize at the prestigious Residenz in Munich, Germany. The honour went to a new precise outdoor navigation system for smartphones.
On 21 October 2009, GSA Executive Director Pedro Pedreira handed the GSA Special Topics prize to entrepreneurs Raphael Volz, Sara Brockmans and Markus Noga from Germany. Their 'Nogago' system exploits the unique properties of EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service).
"EGNOS is now operational," said Pedreira, "and we are working very hard to increase its visibility and to get the industrial sector and public authorities to reap its benefits. This new project, our 2009 GSA Special Topic winner, is a great example of how the EGNOS system can work for both citizens and businesses."
Prize winner Volz explains, "Nogago is a family of smartphone applications that turn modern existing smartphones into outdoor navigation devices." The team, he says, plan to create three product variants to accommodate different outdoor navigation needs: Theses include 'Nogago Outdoor' for hiking and trekking, 'Nogago Guide' for sightseeing and pedestrian navigation, and 'Nogago Sport' for running and biking.
Nogago turns conventional smartphones into a full substitute for dedicated high-end consumer outdoor navigation devices, thereby enabling significant cost savings for consumers who already own a smartphone. "No one will have to buy expensive dedicated devices," says Volz. The trick is to combine GPS information with data already on the device. "We can emulate barometric altitude sensors and an electronic compass not commonly available on most smartphones. With the availability of A-GPS, today's smartphones will even outperform dedicated outdoor navigation devices with respect to the time needed to receive a satellite fix.
Exciting new service
Importantly, Nogago users will not have to pay for maps or even update them. Maps and other location-critical data will be updated automatically every time the users logs onto the system.
Nogago will make extensive use of open, community-maintained data, i.e. data sources already in the public domain. Thus, users will enjoy free and always up-to-date navigation data, in comparison to some currently available products that charge hundreds of euros for maps of limited scope and questionable accuracy.
The Nogago team say their system will use open data sets for outdoor navigation. For example, GPSies.com, a world-leading hiking community, currently has 200 000 trail maps that can be used to plan outdoor activities, including maps of areas in every part of the world. Users can also feed their own track logs back into the OpenStreetMap system to further improve the data.
The Nogago data set is bootstrapped from SRTM v3, provided by NASA. Limitations of the data set are addressed through integration of additional public data sources such as digital elevation models maintained by Jonathan de Ferranti at viewfinderpanoramas.org.
"We integrate these and other data sets on our Web server," says Volz, "and transfer only relevant aspects to the Nogago mobile user. For example, we transfer only the map data needed to cover the area near a certain hiking track." Another example would be the transfer of only that data needed to go sightseeing in a particular city. Data selection and compilation is provided by the Nogago server application.
In his introductory comments, Pedreira noted that a large number of submissions for the GSA prize had been made, all of which were very promising, pointing to a strong future for EGNOS-based products and services.
For example, the runner-up for the prize was an idea put forward for a smart GNSS-based sailing regatta racetimer system. The 'Challenging the World Sailing Cups' proposal provides a solution to the start line problem in sailing races. Features included service to an interesting niche market with high visibility, sensible use of EGNOS and GNSS, a strong technical component and potential use of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR).
For the GSA, a crucial aspect of the first place Nogago proposal is that it takes advantage of the improved accuracy that EGNOS brings to satellite navigation.
Nogago uses the same GPS functionality available in modern smartphones, either internally to the mobile phone or externally with GPS devices connected to the phone via BlueTooth. But it will also use SBAS-Systems such as WAAS, MSAS, GAGAN and EGNOS to increase accuracy of the positioning. Eventually, GALILEO will provide even higher accuracy, availability and reliability, helping Nogago to deliver a better outdoor navigation experience to its users.
Volz says that while the Nogago team was surprised by the award announcement, they are very, very happy. "The recognition is important, of course," he says," but this is also going to be a huge opportunity for us to move forward quickly with our project."
As GSA Special Topic Prize winners, the Nogago team will now have the opportunity to realise their idea at a suitable incubation centre of their own choice within the EU27 for six months, with the option of an additional six months based on evaluation after the first period.
"This is the end of the competition," said Pedreira, "but it is still just the beginning for our winners, who now move on to the challenge of bringing an exciting new idea and a new and competitive service to market. This is the real reason we are here, and, on that point we are very happy to report the good progress being made by last year's GSA Special Topic winner, the 'POB' rescue system."
The GSA Special Topic Award is given on the basis of a number of criteria:
- Uniqueness and originality of the idea
- Business potential (technical feasibility, commercial feasibility, size of market and time to market, credibility of the applicant)
- Contribution to success of EGNOS/Galileo programme in terms of exploiting EGNOS/Galileo unique features, promoting EGNOS/Galileo awareness and bringing EGNOS to new markets.
The sponsorship of a Special Topic Award at the annual European Satellite Navigation Competition is part of the GSA’s overall programme to foster new applications for EGNOS, and, later on, Galileo. The applications must provide economic and social benefit to Europeans and to European industry.
Market development for EGNOS and Galileo
The GSA currently works with the European Commission on a range of market development activities aimed at helping European entrepreneurs and businesses – especially high tech small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), business incubators and related networks – commercially exploit EGNOS and Galileo.
Such promotional activities will ensure that European industry maintains a competitive edge in the global satellite navigation marketplace.
The European Satellite Navigation Competition is an international competition that awards the best ideas for innovative applications in satellite navigation. It has been held annually since 2004 under the patronage of the Bavarian State Ministry for Economic Affairs, Infrastructure, Transport, and Technology.
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