For the European GNSS Agency (GSA), the success of Galileo is to be gauged in part in terms of its uptake within the location-based services (LBS) market. The EU-funded FLAMINGO project is unleashing the potential of GNSS, leveraging the dual-frequency Galileo signal for improved LBS performance in the urban environment.
The objectives of the FLAMINGO project are to develop and deliver high accuracy and reliable positioning and navigation services for mass market uptake. The project team is demonstrating the power of Galileo's dual-frequency signal by developing and showcasing ready-to-market applications on both smartphone and IoT devices within major European cities, all while fostering a new community of EGNSS consumers and applications.
William Roberts is Operations Manager at the UK's NSL and FLAMINGO project coordinator. Speaking at the 2019 Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, he said, "FLAMINGO is showcasing the near future by enabling and demonstrating high-accuracy positioning and navigation.
"What we are doing is using the GNSS raw measurements that Google are providing at their API [application programming interface] level 24 onwards, to provide high-accuracy services directly onto your standard, standalone smartphone. There are data services behind it, but essentially the user of a smartphone can get down to about 50 cm accuracy."
Roberts describes the service as a hybrid RTK- and PPP-type solution, using survey techniques within a smartphone. "The limiting factor is really the smartphone itself, the electronics in there. The antenna is buried within the phone, for example, and things like that. So it's not exactly an ideal survey instrument, but still you can get down to several decimetres of accuracy, which opens up a host of fairly interesting markets, from survey to augmented reality-type applications."
The Galileo difference
Roberts said the European satellite navigation system, Galileo, is a key enabler for the FLAMINGO solution, "because it gives you more satellites, which means better availability, but also the new second frequency."
Traditionally, mobile, location-based applications have been powered by single-frequency GNSS receivers operating under stringent battery-power and footprint constraints. With dual-frequency GNSS capabilities, any smartphone can benefit from better accuracy, ionosphere error cancellation, improved tracking and better multipath resistance, so important in an urban setting. Indeed, making a big splash at MWC 2019 were some brand-new, dual-frequency-enabled smartphone models from Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi, the Mi8 and the top-of-the-line Mi9.
"With this dual-frequency capability that we see here at MWC, with the Xiaomi devices, for example, it gives you a far, far better tracking on the L1 band," Roberts said.
Joining Roberts at the FLAMINGO display was Joshua Critchley-Marrows, also of coordinating partner NSL. He said, "I think one of the big differentiators for us is we're targeting mass-market app developers. They can simply add FLAMINGO to their application and they are immediately delivering a more accurate positioning service. This allows things like augmented reality.
"I'll use an example like a 'laser shooter' game," Critchley-Marrows said. "If you've got some kids pointing their phones at each other and shooting, you need that centimetre accuracy to essentially shoot your friends! Or if you've got a smartphone in the street and you need to identify the cafe that you're trying to get to, you need that below-one-metre accuracy. You might not need ten centimetres or five centimetres, but as long as you've got sub-metre you can probably pinpoint where that shop front is."
"So we're basically enabling a whole new range of apps," said Roberts. "Our FLAMINGO is an app plus an API for developers. So they can simply start FLAMINGO and then start slivering positions, with no knowledge of GNSS.
Widening the community of developers
"One of the things we're going to do at some stage over the next year, it's not confirmed exactly when, is to actually run hackathons, but for the non-GNSS community," Roberts said. "So we want to get people who are app developers who have some form of location-enabled application that they are developing, but they are not GNSS people. That's very important to try and reach out to the wider community and get people here using this. We don't want people to just see GNSS location as a finished product, but instead to use is for more and different kinds of services and solutions."
The FLAMINGO project was on display at MWC in Barcelona thanks to the GSA, which was sharing its space with a select group of excellent EU-supported initiatives using Galileo to bring innovative solutions to the marketplace. "The GSA is all about reducing the time to market and the time to develop a product," Roberts said, "so it gives small companies like ourselves the opportunity to develop new products and new solutions."
"Working within an EU framework has also been great in terms of developing collaborations," Critchley-Marrows said. "We are actually working together with companies across Europe, rather than just trying to compete." Indeed, FLAMINGO involves nine leading European organisations, including five SMEs, all specialised in location technology.
The project represents exactly the kind of innovative, market-oriented initiative that the GSA wants to continue to support and to see succeed, bringing 'the Galileo difference' to the widest possible user market.
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