Ten years after its breakthrough, there is still plenty of potential for development in satellite navigation
Ten years ago, Bill Clinton turned off the GPS interference signal thus facilitating the breakthrough of mobile satellite navigation. Although the technology has developed at a fast pace since then, its potential has not yet been fully exploited.
Hamburg, 28. April 2010. A push of a button ten years ago changed everything – a single push of a button during the night of 1 May 2000, ordered by the president himself. Bill Clinton thus stopped the artificially created noise that had previously blocked the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. Known as “selective availability”, this block was set up by the US government to inhibit hostile weapons. Clinton’s decision to turn off the GPS interference signal helped mobile satellite navigation to finally make its breakthrough.
Dynamic development of navigation
Today, navigation devices are high-tech products that are now an indispensible part of many people’s lives. Nevertheless, the possibilities are far from being fully exploited: “Satellite navigation still offers plenty of potential for development despite the groundbreaking innovations of the past decade”, says Johannes Angenvoort, executive vice-president of Development at the Hamburg-based navigation specialist, NAVIGON. “There is still room up there.” According to a study carried out by the EU Commission, the global satellite navigation market will therefore be worth around 236 billion euros in 2025. In 2005, the market volume was 69 billion euros.
The story of satellite navigation began 40 years before Bill Clinton switched off the GPS interference signal. The first navigation satellite, Transit 1B, was launched into space in 1960. This event marked the beginning of the Navy Navigation Satellite System, developed by the US Navy to guide missiles. As this pioneering system was not able to pinpoint positions accurately enough, the US Department of Defense launched a follow-up system in the 1980s: the Global Positioning System (GPS). It is still used for positioning today.
24 satellites in six orbits
Although satellite navigation was authorised for civilian use back in 1983, which transport and telecommunications companies benefitted from in particular, it also opened up opportunities for science and, above all, developers. However, the U.S. military interference signal meant that positions could not be pinpointed as accurately as the technology actually allowed. With deviations of around 100 metres, GPS technology thus provided considerably less accurate information for mobile navigation than drivers are used to today. Nevertheless, the period leading up to Clinton’s decision was cutting edge. “Key milestones were achieved for the rapid later development of the technology, particularly during the 1990s”, says navigation expert Angenvoort. NAVIGON, for example, launched the first dynamic GPS navigation, “Autopilot”, in 1996. The first mobile navigation system for the Pocket PC P1 followed four years later. “The improvement of the GPS signal in 2000 triggered the launch of navigation systems as we know them today.”
The current status of navigation
Navigation device developers could then take full advantage of the technical possibilities of satellite technology. A lot has been achieved in the meantime: increasingly high-performance, GPS-based navigation solutions have been developed. Devices, such as those provided by NAVIGON, can even access real-time information from the Internet during route calculation, whether it is the latest traffic jam reports, help in searching for parking spaces or getting in touch with friends. A GPS receiver is now already included as standard in many smartphones.
The future is still exciting – reliability as the key factor
Despite many innovative creations, the future of satellite navigation is still highly promising even 50 years after the launch of the first navigation satellite, Transit 1B: the European counterpart to the American GPS system is scheduled to begin operating in 2013. “Galileo” is a joint venture between the European Union, the European Space Agency (ESA) and various non-European countries, such as China and Saudi Arabia. The system is similar to the American GPS system but is likely to be more accurate, with minimum deviations ranging from four meters to just a few centimetres. The key factor, according to navigation expert Angenvoort, will continue to be the reliability of positioning systems in the future: “In addition to the most accurate positioning possible, the reliable availability of navigation is a priority for NAVIGON. We are also continually working to make our applications even more flexible and convenient with the help of satellite technology.” NAVIGON is thus currently working on enabling live map updates and updates of points of interest via the satellite signal in its “Sister” research project.
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