Satellite navigation or 'satnav' systems are enjoying growing popularity, especially in the transport sector where unit prices have dropped rapidly. The global market is already estimated to be worth some eight billion euro.
Now the partners in the GAWAIN project hope to prompt further growth by combining satnav and 3G (third generation) telephony facilities within one device. They hope to combine the world's two most important global positioning systems, Europe's Galileo and the American GPS, within a 3G mobile telephone on a single chip.
"An integrated chip like this reduces the components a manufacturer needs to use, and reduces power consumption. It will make it very attractive for handset manufacturers to include navigation as standard with their mobile phones," notes Günter Heinrichs, coordinator of the GAWAIN project. "Combining these two systems will also double the availability of navigation, and should help combat problems like urban canyons where one satellite system might not reach."
It is an impressive achievement. This is the first time a UMTS (Universal Mobile Telephone Services) receiver has been combined with Galileo/GPS.
During the commercialisation phase in the coming years, the fundamental design principles will be turned into integrated chips ready for mass production. The process may even render the chips more efficient.
"For example, it may be possible to use the UMTS receiver on the chip to receive satnav information as well," remarks Heinrichs.
The advent of such an integrated chip could finally unlock the future potential for location-based services or LBS. Once the functionality is installed within a large number of devices, it could facilitate the growth of such services for the mass market, simply because the additional cost of entry for users will not be high and providers will have a ready market based on devices that are easily upgradeable.
It is these LBS services that are the selling points of a combined chip, and GAWAIN explored some intriguing options to this end. For example, in smart transport the devices could be used to tell commuters when the next bus will arrive at a particular stop. Such a service could make using the bus much more competitive with train travel, helping to popularise bus transport.
Smart tourism services could also supply information that is relevant to the user's present location. If travellers find themselves arriving unexpectedly at a particular destination, all the relevant information about hotels, transport, restaurants and places of interest could be made instantly available.
"Cellular networks could provide city guides for their subscribers, or could sell the information to tourists who arrive in the city, for example," Heinrichs says. There is even the potential to develop an electronic guide dog for the blind, offering spoken instructions to keep the user safe.
The real advantage of services like these, however, is the many as-yet-unimagined services that they could make possible. When the concept of the internet was first dreamt of, it was seen as simply a way for the military to maintain communications in the event of a nuclear war.
After it became a publicly-available platform however, and particularly after Tim Berners-Lee of CERN invented the universal web browser, the internet took off. In a few short years the web has become ubiquitous, and has enabled societies across the world to re-engineer how they fulfil basic and advanced needs, from publishing to shopping and dating. Location-based services could offer a similar, huge future potential
The project continues until March 2007, but has already achieved 90 per cent of its goals. Currently, the GAWAIN partners are testing the system in the laboratory, but from November 2006 will be running tests in real scenarios. After March 2007, the project team will enter the commercialization phase and start contacting new potential partners who want to either invest in the technology or help develop new services.
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